RHODE ISLAND: A LEADING BIO HUB
When people think of “Pharm Country”—the U.S. hotbed of biotechnology, pharmaceutical and medical companies in the Northeast—New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania tend to come to mind first, given the presence of mammoth organizations like Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb. But more recently, 1,000-or-so-square-mile Rhode Island has been welcoming new facilities and jobs across the spectrum, from biologics and pharmaceuticals to medical devices and diagnostics.
Today, the health and life sciences industry concentration in Rhode Island sits 31 percent higher than the national average, churning $500 million in annual revenue, and employing some 20 percent of the state’s workforce.
State-led programs and incentives developed to foster growth in the biotech sector range from tax credits to investments in workers themselves. The Qualified Jobs Incentive program offers annual tax credits to organizations that expand their Rhode Island workforce. Innovation Voucher grants, available up to $50,000, go towards the funding of early research and development collaborations with Rhode Island universities, research centers or medical centers. And Rebuild Rhode Island credits, designed to bridge financing gaps for Rhode Island companies’ real estate needs, can assist with up to 20 to 30 percent of approved projects.
To help retain the most talented employees, Rhode Island also has Wavemaker Fellowships—student loan assistance for graduates who choose to work in STEM and design fields in RI—and Real Jobs Rhode Island, a demand driven workforce development initiative that offers job placement assistance and free or paid training, in partnership with Rhode Island businesses and organizations. One recent example of this program is a new 10-week, 300-hour training in Process Technology. Tuition is free and funded through Real Jobs Rhode Island and rapidly educates students in the disciplines used in process technology.
Over the past three years, CommerceRI, Rhode Island’s commerce department, says it’s invested nearly $30 million into the life sciences in the state, resulting in more than 700 added jobs in the sector.
Local leaders, residents and organizations in or attached to the biotech sector are putting their energy in, too.
The RI BioHub advocacy group—a state partnership with local industry leaders and professionals—aims to “transform RI’s Life Sciences industry cluster” by fostering collaboration and providing support, through events, training opportunities and more.
Rhode Island educational Institutions are making their own moves to spur growth. Brown University partnered with venture capital company The Slater Fund on The Brown Venture Founders program, a post-grad initiative that provides support for Brown grads building startups—biotech-leaning ones included—in Rhode Island. The University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island School of Design teamed with local companies Lifespan and Ximedica to launch NEMIC (the New England Medical Innovation Center) in 2017, a mentorship/coworking non-profit meant to aid Rhode Island entrepreneurs in biotech fields as they get young businesses off the ground.
Rhode Island is home to a world-class concentration of educational institutions. The state steadily educates thousands of the bright minds of biotech’s future. Universities in the Providence-Boston area send more than 5,300 biology and biological sciences graduates into the workforce each year.
Between the efforts of Rhode Island leadership, learning institutions and industry leaders, and players, the past three years have shown that job gap shrinking significantly.
A major, recent Rhode Island biotech win: Amgen, named among the U.S.’s top 10 most valuable public life-science companies, extended its commitment to the state after a global search, choosing West Greenwich, RI, for its new, $160-million biomanufacturing plant. The Rebuild Rhode Island tax credit program and the Qualified Jobs Incentive Act were both part of the deal that sealed Amgen’s decision.
Rubius Therapeutics, a Cambridge, MA-based startup, also recently announced plans to build its manufacturing plant in Smithfield, RI. These companies represent hundreds of new biotech jobs to Rhode Island.
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