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Steve Pagliuca

The next big thing

State’s leaders, institutions should help Harvard revive Allston site as focus of life-sciences push

By Steve Pagliuca
January 3, 2011

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IN THE 1950s, the business community of North Carolina and the leaders of Duke University, University of North Carolina, and North Carolina State University decided that a concerted effort was needed to move the state’s economy from its historic reliance on tobacco farming. They came together and boldly developed the “Research Triangle’’ plan, which called for a nonprofit private partnership to spur development of high technology and life sciences, leveraging the intellectual capital of the universities.

The state supported the plan with infrastructure and a host of business development incentives. The result has been a stunning success, turning former tobacco fields into a life sciences and technology corridor that has transformed the state. The Research Triangle now boasts the highest concentration of PhDs in the nation’s top 100 metropolitan areas, and has created over 100,000 sustainable jobs in technology and the life sciences. Harvard and MIT were the inspiration for North Carolina’s business leaders in the 1950s, but it is now their example that should serve as an inspiration to Massachusetts as we confront the impacts of the Great Recession of 2008.

While our state has long been a leader in biotech and health care, the competition is now visible in the rear-view mirror. We are competing in a global economy where multi-national corporations, foreign governments, and even other states are working hard to win the jobs of the future. Our Commonwealth must focus its attention — and its resources — on building on our core strengths to ensure sustainable job creation in the 21st century economy.

Now is the time for leaders from public, private, and academic and nonprofit sectors to come together to rapidly develop a regional “industrial blueprint’’ to help strengthen and promote this vibrant and dynamic sector of our economy. In order to create the jobs of the future in bio-tech and health care, our government needs to do more to help our diverse set of venture capital firms, labor unions, universities, and businesses win in the global economy. We need a blueprint that will ensure the health and success of our most vibrant and exciting industries. We need a blueprint that offers unwavering, long-term support for long-term job growth.

This is a task too large for business, government, labor, or academia to conquer alone. Rather, we need to work together to find a path to make Massachusetts the site of this country’s next economic miracle.

Our elected leaders, including Governor Deval Patrick, Mayor Thomas Menino, and Senators John Kerry and Scott Brown, have all been strong supporters of pro-active job creation. Under their leadership, all should come together to develop a “Massachusetts Life Sciences Strategy Blueprint.’’

A key piece of this plan should be to help Harvard accelerate the development of a life sciences cluster in Allston. In 2005, Larry Summers, then president of Harvard, envisioned that this life sciences cluster would be “what Florence was to an earlier era through what it was able to do in the arts, a center of a central intellectual activity of mankind.’’ We need to make that vision a reality.

This location can serve as the center of collaborative effort by academics, industry, labor, and government to create a world class biotechnology/informatics cluster. The site has already been prepared and is sitting empty. Private capital could be raised from the biotech, pharma, and high-tech industry players to build out a research campus that would sit in the hot bed of biotech and informatics research. The federal, state, and city governments could help with infrastructure and tax incentives. Harvard could cooperate with MIT, Tufts, Boston University, Boston College, and UMass to develop a center of excellence. The resulting complex would help Massachusetts maintain its leadership position and create thousands of sustainable jobs.

Equally important, the blueprint should address the most effective way to develop a nonprofit, public-private corporation chartered to deploy state and federal capital to provide industrial investment and infrastructure to support growth. This support will allow Massachusetts to maintain leadership in this critical industry through coordination.

■It should call for the capitalization of a life sciences/technology bank to lend alongside venture capital money to promote startup and growth companies. Access to financing will increase the ability of the venture capitalists to fund these important companies.

■It should look at ways to streamline the regulatory and approval process and provide tax incentives for life sciences/business development. A fast-track process and economic incentives will attract the best entrepreneurs and investors to the state.

■And it should create a student loan and scholarship fund to promote studies in engineering and the life sciences to enhance long-term regional capability, because in order to win in the long run, Massachusetts needs to attract, train, and retain the best students.

In contrast to the tobacco fields of the 1950s in North Carolina, Massachusetts is not starting from scratch. We are already a global center of excellence in the life sciences and health care world. We have the highest concentration of academic centers, researchers, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, world class hospitals, and medical device and biotech companies in close proximity of anywhere in the world. Massachusetts receives more National Institutes of Health funding than any other state, over $20 billion, and 20 percent of US biotech venture capital is deployed in Massachusetts. In 2009, the health care and biotech sectors produced over $35 billion in goods and services and employed over 500,000 people.

These industries offer growth in direct jobs and have a multiplier effect that results in two indirect jobs for every one job created. We should take advantage of our position by joining business, government, labor, and academia in a collective effort that will fuel a resurgence of Massachusetts innovation, help jump-start our economy, and create the high-paying jobs of the future now. The world economy is now more competitive than ever; we need to step up our efforts to keep America as the world leader in the jobs of the future.

Steve Pagliuca is a long-time venture capital investor, a managing director at Bain Capital, and a co-owner and managing partner of the Boston Celtics.