(Grace Bio-Labs | Photo Courtesy of Grace Bio-Labs)

A growing bioscience sector in Central Oregon has become a prominent feature of the local business environment and has played a role in that industry — featuring cutting-edge research and development of innovative healthcare, agricultural, and environmental biotechnologies — boosting the state’s economy by more than $10 billion in 2017, according to a new study.

East of the Cascades, Deschutes County has been successful in supporting the steady growth of its own bourgeoning bioscience and R&D cluster, particularly through Bend Research and spin-off businesses spawned by that scientific powerhouse, as part of a trend mirrored statewide.

Economic Development for Central Oregon (EDCO) has long targeted bioscience as a desirable ‘clean’ industry for the region, and has fostered development of the field, known for providing higher-than-average wages and producing a strong ‘multiplier’ effect rippling through local communities and beyond. Oregon Bio’s report shows the larger Deschutes County area now has some 52 bioscience-based businesses — with a number related to agriculture — with 720 jobs that command average wages in excess of $84,000 annually.

In fact, a new economic impact report released by Oregon Bioscience Association (Oregon Bio) points to a highly diverse workforce, combined $10.7 billion footprint (with $4 billion of that in ‘new money’) and continued notable gains in wages and jobs touching virtually every other sector of Oregon’s economy, including $1.1 billion in state and federal taxes paid and $3.9 billion in exports.

The study, undertaken by Pinnacle Economics, illustrated that on the private industry side alone, bioscience added more than 4,800 jobs in Oregon from 2002-2017 for a total of 14,603 positions, with a growth rate of 77 percent.

Nearly half of that growth was outside the Portland area, observed Kate Ryan, Central Oregon Business Development specialist with Oregon Bio, which is the state affiliate of BIO (Biotechnology Innovation Organization). BIO is the world’s largest trade association representing biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations across the United States and in more than 30 other nations.

Central Oregon’s expanding bioscience exponents cover everything from cutting edge research in new drug treatment methods (Bend Research/Lonza, Thermo Fisher Scientific) to global leadership in environmentally sustainable pest control (Suttera), to cutting-edge testing services for pharmaceutical companies (VR Analytical) and to world-renowned development and manufacture of tools for life science research (Grace Bio-Labs).

Innovative companies such as these have been part of double-digit annual employment growth in the sector for the past several years, with the region’s enviable lifestyle proving capable of attracting top-class talent.

Bend Research, a world leader in pharmaceutical drug delivery technologies and a major employer with a workforce of around 350, is something of the ‘granddaddy’ of the city’s bioscience industry. It has undergone several expansions at its engineering facility in north east Bend and its renowned innovation figured prominently in former parent company Capsugel’s $5.5 billion acquisition by Swiss-based pharmaceutical supplier Lonza.

Drawn by recreational and lifestyle amenities perhaps rather than the presence of a research institution, Bend Research’s founders landed in Tumalo in the mid-1970s, followed a couple of decades later by other early local bioscience pioneer Grace Bio-Labs, whose operators relocated from the Detroit area. The latter company has also undergone significant growth in the interim, including doubling the size of its facility in 2017 and employing around 100 people.

Bend Research’s core companies are still growing, while the region is populated by several startups, a number of them begun by former employees, including offshoot Agere Pharmaceuticals, which was formed in 2008, and sold in 2015 to contract manufacturer Patheon for $26 million. ThermoFisher then purchased Patheon who later invested $5.7 million in an expansion of the Bend facility.

Medline ReNewal is another bioscience economic development success story for Central Oregon. Founded in 1997 as MediSISS, the company launched with the revolutionary idea of transforming single-use medical devices into reusable assets.

After nearly two decades of growth, the company’s reputation for device reprocessing in the healthcare industry attracted the interest of the largest privately-held manufacturer and distributor of medical supplies, and in 2012 they were acquired and became Medline ReNewal.

Redmond Economic Development Inc. (REDI), in collaboration with EDCO, was instrumental in aligning city leadership, state government and local support in coordinating incentives and land availability, which led to Medline acquiring 12 acres in Redmond’s Industrial Park and building a custom 50,000-square-foot facility in 2017, designed with room for future growth.

And with Oregon State University – Cascades evolving as a four-year university, bioscience boosters want to help take the local industry to the next level.

Jeff Gautschi, a Chemistry Senior Instructor at OSU-Cascades and former first employee of Agere, steered past university efforts with Adam Krynicki to create a bioscience incubator to foster startups from a variety of disciplines. This has led to the founding of the “Innovation Co-Lab” and enhancing Central Oregon’s reputation as a scientific hub.

Gautschi and other bioscience backers say they also want to broaden the industry to create job openings for recent college graduates.

The recruitment of bioscience is part of a full spectrum of technology businesses tergeted by EDCO, “because these are the jobs of the future,” said Executive Director Roger Lee. “The majority of jobs in ten or twenty years have not even been invented today, so it is imperative that we prepare to capitalize on the next generation of employment rather than just what we’ve experienced thus far.”

Oregon Bio’s study data showed Oregon is home to 19,157 direct bioscience jobs with $1.45 billion paid in direct wages in 2017. Annual wages in corporate bioscience averaged $70,451 and in life science research averaged $92,840 in 2017.

These two sectors far exceed Oregon’s overall private annual wage by 40 percent and 46 percent, respectively. The report underscores how Oregon’s bioscience and health research sectors provide high-paying, skilled jobs, while showing increased exports, as well as substantial contributions to the economy via taxes and overall economic activity.

“It is compelling to note that Oregon’s biotech and health research sectors reside in all sizes of companies from start up to scale up to medium sized to very large,” said Oregon Bioscience Association’s Executive Director Liisa Bozinovic. “And the increased diversity shows larger numbers of women and minorities work in our sector.”

“Our analysis again shows bioscience industry generates economic activity in every sector of the Oregon economy,” said Alec Josephson of Pinnacle Economics. “The industry is healthy and with health comes growth.”

He noted that the employment multiplier of 2.5 suggests for every ten bioscience jobs, the industry supports an additional 15 jobs in other sectors of the economy. An income multiplier of 1.8 shows for every $1 million in income directly generated in the bioscience industry, another $800,000 in income occurs for other workers/industries.

Additionally, Oregon bio companies/firms are varied in size and location. Of note, the bioscience industry exists in nearly every county of Oregon, with 43 percent of firms/companies located outside of Portland, generating $427 million in wages and employing 6,778 persons.

Bozinovic said: “The bio sector here is thriving and continues to outshine the state averages with higher wages, more jobs, a growing number of bio companies/firms and more funding from federal sources for research than previous studies. It will be important to protect and preserve this growth so our expanding industry can continue to support Oregon’s diverse economy.”

“The report done by National BIO, was commissioned by TEConomy and underscores our local findings as well, including more good news regarding higher venture capital funding and a higher number of bio-related patents than in previous studies.”

Medline ReNewal’s Vice President of Operations Steve Bettis observed, “This is a stable industry, somewhat insulated from economic fluctuations, and we see a lot of further growth potential, and the continued addition of relatively better paying jobs.

“We invest heavily in R&D and one reason we were attracted to be here was Redmond’s openness to new business and capacity for growth.”

About Oregon Bioscience Association: A member trade association, it was formally established as a 501(c)(6) nonprofit in 1989 by a consortium of universities, public officials, educators and bioscience executives to cultivate a regionally synergistic climate in which to build a bioscience community. The Oregon Bioscience Association advocates for its members and the industry to create opportunity through advocacy, cultivation and education. Oregon Bio promotes the growth and quality of the bioscience industry in Oregon and continually seeks ways to support sustainability and growth in the life science, bioscience, biotechnology and device manufacturing industries and to create acceleration initiatives so members can achieve their full scientific, economic and social potential. Oregon Bio, a nonprofit membership association, is both the Oregon affiliate of BIO (Biotechnology Innovation Organization), and AdvaMed (Advanced Medical Technology Association)