Local Government Investment in the Life Sciences Industries

Dr. Sengyong Lee Introducing the Indiana Center for the Life Sciences
Dr. Sengyong Lee Introducing the Indiana Center for the Life Sciences

This Tuesday, I had the opportunity to attend the Bloomington Life Sciences Partnership‘s Annual Summit, highlighting the state of the life sciences industry in Bloomington. The event featured an introduction by Dr. Sengyong Lee, the chair of the Ivy Tech Biotechnology Department, along with a panel discussion among representatives of 3 Bloomington life sciences companies of very different sizes: Dan Peterson from Cook Group (approximately 4700 employees in the Monroe County area), Susan Easton from Baxter BioPharma Solutions (approximately 800 employees in the Monroe County Area), and John Morris from Morris Innovative (a startup with 6 employees). The panel was moderated by George Telthorst, the Director of the Center for the Business of Life Sciences at the IU Kelley School of Business.

The panelists highlighted the drivers affecting their businesses, including customers, local supplier networks, workforce, and regulatory issues. They also discussed workforce issues, and highlighted the large number of jobs that are currently available and unfilled, as well as the opportunities for promotion. Workforce issues came up multiple times in the conversation. One comment that I found particularly interesting was that students coming out of high school do not necessarily think of life sciences as a choice for employment; that  students often think of life sciences employment as being only for scientists and engineers, when in reality the majority of employees work in a manufacturing/production environment.

Panelists Dan Peterson, Susan Easton, John Morris
Panelists Dan Peterson, Susan Easton, John Morris

The life sciences industry is clearly of strategic importance for Monroe County, employing more than 4000 local residents in medical device manufacturing and 1750 in biopharmaceuticals (Source: http://bloomingtonlifesciences.com/workforce/data/). And local government needs to be engaged with the regional significance of the industry. The Indiana Biosciences Research Institute (IBRI) in Indianapolis — the anchor of a proposed major tech-centered development on the south side of Indianapolis, aims to bridge the gap between university-based research and corporate research in the life sciences, and represents a major strategic opportunity for Monroe County and central Indiana.

One of the most exciting aspects of this summit, however, was the opportunity to highlight the summit’s venue — the Indiana Center for Life Sciences (ICLS). Operated by Ivy Tech, the ICLS is a state-of-the-art workforce development facility located in Monroe County’s Westside Economic Development Area. In addition to lab and classroom space, the ICLS includes a voluminous 5000 square foot training facility, which allows local life sciences companies to conduct training in a simulated production facility. The real advantage of the ICLS training facility is that it allows companies to conduct realistic training that they could not easily conduct in their own “clean room” facilities.

Indiana Center for the Life Sciences
Indiana Center for the Life Sciences

The ICLS was created in 2007 through a strategic partnership between Monroe County Government and Ivy Tech, that included a $5M investment in the facility by the Monroe County Redevelopment Commission. This investment was funded through Redevelopment District Bonds (2007 Series), with a principal of $5M, and paid by property tax revenues in the Westside Economic Development Area tax increment finance district. The debt is scheduled to be retired in 2024.

Thus far, the ICLS has been a story of successful local government investment in strategic economic development, and has become a valued facility in the local life sciences industry, bringing in millions in additional investment and grant funding.

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