Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The geography of US biotech and its effects on jobs

Credit: Jones Lang LaSalle
Luke Timmerman recently called out real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle's ranking of US biotech hubs, especially its ranking of San Diego over the San Francisco Bay Area. Derek Lowe chimed in and agreed that the home of the Giants and 49ers should be ranked higher than America's Finest City. For what it's worth, I certainly agree that it's a counterintuitive finding. (Don't miss Timmerman's dogging of Lindbergh Field; if only MCRD would move somewhere else...)

I think the idea of this sort of weighted formula ranking is really fun, but sort of quixotic. If you click through it, you see that they actually ranked the above cities 1 (Boston) through 21 (Atlanta). What is it about Seattle that makes it "established", while Westchester/New Haven, CT is "emerging"? Should New Jersey be lumped in with New York City? How is Cleveland the same biotech hub as Cincinnati (distance of 249 miles)? How about southern Wisconsin and Chicago (90 miles)? Where's St. Louis? Is the canoe wood or aluminum?

If I were to do this sort of thing, I would basically narrow it down to 2 cities, Boston and San Francisco, and then everyone else. They're not giving up their crowns any time soon, either -- if anything, it seems like Boston/Cambridge is consolidating its gains. In the Great Recession years, how many life scientists moved to Boston as opposed to moved away?

Either way, it seems to me that people who might want to work in the biotech industry would be well advised to make sure their educational institutions (and the networks (ugh) within those institutions) filter into the above hubs, and (as a safe bet), probably the "established ones."

Also, note the relative position of the industrial Midwest or the Mountain West in these rankings -- sigh. Do we think that they will emerge by 2020?

Readers, am I crazy? 


  1. Looking at the score breakdown, it seems that San Diego overtakes both Boston and San Francisco in the "life sciences employment" category.

    I would argue that particular metric is weighted a little too heavily, and that number actually reflects the job diversity within the metro area. For example, the San Francisco number would likely be diluted by the sheer number of IT related jobs in the area. It also looks like the "life sciences establishments" category is similarly diluted.

  2. Hmmm..
    Salt Lake City is the only one I'd consider remotely 'emerging' but sincerely doubt it will grow to a considerable size in the next 10-20 years.

    The rest of the Midwest is submerging. Pick up a bucket and start bailing!

  3. Jones Lang LaSalle's ranking system is bogus. Life Science establishments - does this count the numerous empty biotech buildings in La Jolla? Percent employment - does this take in account that some cities include their outskirts while others deem them suburbs? Do the rankings take in account that if someone has enough money to be a venture capitalist they might live in soCal and invest somewhere with a better tax structure?

    And of course - Jones Lang LaSalle is not just an impartial observer. It is a major real estate firm with "life science establishments" to sell in many of these cities. If I had to unload the empty buildings on Science Center Drive and Science Park Rd to collect commissions, I'd call San Diego a biotech hub too.

  4. To offer anecdotal support of your hypothesis, I moved from SF to Boston after the recession. I wouldn't call things here great, but the climate here feels healthier. I can't exactly say what it is that makes me feel that way. Probably the large number of people I know back in Cali that are struggling to find work while I see a good number of people here getting placed and advancing through their careers.

  5. So you're saying if you didn't make it into an A school in California or the Northeast, you should give up on a on career in the life sciences? I think you're being a bit too dismissive of the secondary/tertiary hubs here. Sure, I'll probably have to move to find work as I made the decision to go to school at Non-flagship Public Research University XX, but somewhere out there is a fulfilling job that puts food on the table for me.

    Like bartending.

    -optimistic undergrad