Careers in the biotechnology sector are at the forefront of job creation and growth. In the U.S., bioscience firms employ 1.66 million people across more than 77,000 U.S. business establishments, and overall industry employment has increased for four consecutive years, according to the Biotechnology Innovation Organization.
The industry offers high-paying, innovative careers to invigorate employment options and local economies. However, it takes a concerted effort of nurturing this growth and helping biotechnology companies access resources so local economies can benefit from these investments.
One example of an organization helping build companies and start-ups in the ag biotech space is BioSTL, a nonprofit organization launched in 2001. The purpose of the organization is to help the St. Louis region capitalize on its strengths in the plant and medical sciences by working to build and attract new enterprises that will generate jobs in biotech, a significant, high-growth industry.
Ben Johnson, vice president of programs at BioSTL, works on recruiting talent for the workforce, public policy issues affecting biotechnology, and marketing and branding the strengths of St. Louis. Johnson believes that biotechnology brings a host of benefits to not only the St. Louis area but globally.
“Biotech innovations in agriculture bring advances from science to the public in a much quicker way, such as innovative new traits that bring benefits not just to a farmer’s field but also to people and their dinner plates,” Johnson says. “We know the challenges of a growing population and how agriculture can be tough in many parts of the world. Biotechnology can help bring food, fuel and health to underserved populations at more accessible costs, in a much shorter time frame, than any technology of the past.”
Biotechnology brings economic productivity to the world, and particularly to the U.S. according to Johnson. The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) agrees. In 2012, PCAST called for an improved innovation ecosystem for the U.S. heartland to enhance the economy and harness the power of U.S. innovation in science and technology.
“Biotech innovation is good for the U.S. economy because we are a global leader in the industry,” Johnson explains. “U.S. innovators, institutions and researchers are at the forefront of developing these new technologies in safe and effective ways to bring the benefits to farmers and consumers.”
The U.S. benefits from the growth of biotechnology, but so does everyone in the value chain for soy and other commodities that depend upon biotech traits.
“The U.S. biotech industry is creating value throughout the ag value chain in seeds and traits but also at every point of the value chain and all the way to the consumers who benefit from increased economic prosperity,” Johnson says.
One of the advantages of U.S. soy is innovation, in terms of continuous improvement and meeting customer needs. Biotechnology enables this innovation with advances in seed development, production practices and marketing opportunities.
A changing narrative for local economies
Johnson feels that biotechnology and other areas of innovation are the forefront of the world’s new economy.
“What we’ve seen in St Louis is a change in the narrative,” Johnson says. “From a Midwest Rust Belt city with declining manufacturing to a city building on its strength in ag with new companies on the forefront of innovation.”
St. Louis is seeing these changes in real jobs and measures of prosperity.
“We’ve counted upwards of 300 new startups that have launched in St. Louis in the biosciences over the last decade with nearly two billion dollars in capital invested across those companies, which resulted in thousands of jobs for the community,” Johnson says.
These benefits to local communities and the country as a whole hinge on decision makers understanding the complexities of biotechnology and how it comes to market. In a 2012 report from PCAST, one obstacle identified by members of the agricultural research community is the complex regulatory environment that delays or prevents new intellectual capital from being developed and translated into commercial products. PCAST called for a transparent regulatory system that protects public health and the environment, while encouraging the commercialization of new products.
“The U.S. is the world leader in ensuring new technologies come to market in a safe and effective way, and the regulatory process is critically important,” Johnson says. “But that doesn’t mean that it’s not without issues. It requires significant capital and financial wherewithal to take a product through the regulatory process and to market. We want to ensure the regulatory process is robust but also nimble and effective so companies can navigate it in a clear, transparent way.”