Growing the Life Sciences Community: A Look at What it Takes to Become “BioReady®”
Guest Blog by Ed Giroux, Chair, Billerica Board of Selectmen
MassBio has developed BioReady® ratings for municipalities who submit details on their zoning practices and infrastructure capacity. Our focus with these ratings is to help biotechnology companies find the most favorable destinations in the state and to enable the state and its cities and towns to effectively tell their stories to the biotechnology industry. The below blog from Ed Giroux, Chair of the Billerica Board of Selectmen, details the steps Billerica took to rise in its ratings.
Billerica is pleased to rise from “Gold level” to “Platinum level” in the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council’s ranking of BioReady® Communities. The local efforts that Billerica has made and the commitment to growing the life sciences industry in the community took multiple years. Even by reaching the highest level ranking from MassBio, the Town realizes that there are more proactive initiatives that we can undertake to further business development.
Billerica realizes that speed to market is one of the most important steps towards the Town’s business recruitment goal. We believe in streamlining the permitting process and making the necessary changes needed to encourage this to happen. For example, in 2007 the Town of Billerica identified a 43D site on the Middlesex Turnpike (the 43D program guarantees local permitting decisions on priority development sites). Now, that site is the location of EMD Serono, a biopharmaceutical company using the space as their Research & Development Institute for more than 600 employees.
By taking advantage of state programs, Billerica is proud to house a facility such as EMD Serono where they are currently researching and developing solutions for illnesses like multiple sclerosis and cancer. Most recently in 2019, we were pleased to learn that the company chose to expand right here in Billerica vs. other locations in the state of Massachusetts, or even around the world. EMD Serono is investing $70M in the construction of a new 145,000 square foot facility to accelerate science and innovation in Oncology, Immuno-oncology and Immunology globally. Streamlining the permitting process helped facilitate this massive expansion.
That growth is also dependent on the local zoning. One of the thresholds in the BioReady rankings is allowing biotech laboratory and manufacturing uses “by right”. Those of us in municipal government understand the difficulty in getting zoning passed – a two thirds vote at Town Meeting – however, in 2011, residents voted to allow “Accessory uses to scientific research or development” and “Research facility” as By Right uses in our industrial parks.
These forward looking initiatives mean a great deal. Quanterix, a company that’s digitizing biomarker analysis with the goal of advancing the science of precision health, did not need to go through the public hearing process when they located their corporate headquarters and brought over 100 jobs to Billerica. This allowed for time and cost savings, as well as the certainty that they could get into their space quickly.
In addition to speed, there needs to be available space for those life science industries to thrive. Billerica understands that running a company – particularly entrepreneurial startups – is more important than searching for real estate or permitting. The community has designated a single point of contact, Rob Anderson (email@example.com), who can identify the available real estate, make introductions to property owners, and guide interested companies through the process here in Billerica. Pre-permitting meetings, including all department heads from police, fire, DPW, building, planning, conservation, and health, is standard and breeds an efficiency that is useful for wise investment.
Those investments can be substantial and Billerica is an active participant in the Massachusetts Economic Development Incentive Program (EDIP) where companies can receive local tax incentives for facility investments. We understand that when a community is an active partner with a company, it can benefit all those involved.
EMD Serono has taken advantage of this collaboration in the past, as has Pharmalucence, a life science manufacturing company located in one of our many industrial parks. Their $40M investment in the facility and job creation was enabled by the willingness of Billerica to enter into the local incentive agreement. These types of partnerships are something that is an important part of our economic development strategy for life science recruitment.
The combination of available real estate and the By Right uses in our zoning are recognizable elements in the BioReady rankings. Those efforts over time here in Billerica were never in vain and allowed Billerica to have its own cluster of life science companies; over 30 involved in biotech, research and development, medical device, and vendors to the industry. The new ranking is not just a rubber stamp for us, but an indication that Billerica is on the right path.
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