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Is a world-class workforce enough? September 6, 2006

Posted by Tom in Community, Economic Development, Opinion, Technology, Workforce.
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I read with interest a piece about the State of Maryland’s recent failed effort to land a Novartis vaccine plant. To the state’s credit, they are using the effort as a spur to investigate what it will take to become the “Vaccine Manufacturing Capital of the World” – a nice position to assume, as this niche of the pharmaceutical industry will likely grow from positive efforts like the Gates Foundation‘s effort to cure disease in the Third World and negative ones like the occasional threat of bioterrorism.

The article had this to say about Maryland’s positive attributes:

The competitive advantage that Maryland does have in biologics R&D and production is derived from three main areas: workforce, innovation, and resources.

Maryland’s workforce is top-ranked for doctoral scientists and engineers with over 85,000 in the region, and home to many established biomanufacturing training programmes.

As far as innovation is concerned, Maryland is unrivaled; the state has one of the largest biosciences clusters in the US, with more than 350 biotechnology companies.

Not a bad start – and a position that many states would envy. The problem as I see it is the classic issue of “high value” versus “low cost” (read: “cheap”):

Aris Melissaratos, Maryland’s secretary of the Department of Business and Economic Development, said that other states were willing to give away free land and so Maryland couldn’t compete with that sweetener given this region’s high real estate prices.

Still much of the report’s suggestions could eventually boil down to money – according to Melissaratos, Maryland lost the Novartis plant because other states offered incentives that were five times what Maryland was prepared to offer.

Thus, when it came down to making a decision at Novartis, they appeared to pass on the top-tier workforce and instead recycle the “Jerry MacGuire” quote: “Show me the money.”   And, sadly, the value of workforce in economic development dropped just that much more.

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