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Bioscience Initiative Pushes for Jobs in Baltimore

December 20, 2002

Placing a high priority on the biosciences as a measure for long-term economic development, the Baltimore Workforce Investment Board (BWIB) has released a strategic plan that aims to ensure growth, in part, by securing a highly motivated and well trained workforce for the city's bioscience sector.

Conducted by two consulting firms, the Baltimore Bioscience Initiative finds that the city and surrounding region already have a sizable employment base of approximately 11,000 people. The majority of this workforce is housed at university medical schools and hospitals and National Institutes of Health (NIH) laboratories, the report states. Of the 78 companies (4,800 employees) that make up the bioscience sector, however, 12-15 percent of their workforce is comprised of low-skill workers, such as lab assistants, technicians, production technicians and clinical technicians.

In preparing the plan, the consultants studied economic and demographic trend information in the Baltimore area and conducted interviews with human resources directors of major employers and directors of major education and training providers. The consultants also reviewed best practices for similar training initiatives and visited two areas with reputable programs, Berkeley, CA, and Spokane, WA. The Baltimore Bioscience Coalition, a group of stakeholders, subsequently was formed to assist in developing the plan.

The outlook for the biosciences in Baltimore is very promising, according to the plan. Continued growth of the area's nonprofit sector, rapid increases in NIH funding, and emerging young biotech companies from R&D firms are all positive signs. Plans also are in the works for an R&D park near Johns Hopkins Medical School and development around the University of Maryland medical campus, and some construction of the 600,000 sq. ft. of lab and office space planned for these facilities already is underway. The researchers estimate cumulative growth will increase 25 percent by 2005 and 40 percent by 2007.

What is lacking in the effort to bolster this growth, the report suggests, are "more vigorous technology commercialization efforts from the research-rich base, better entrepreneurial support services, greater access to investment capital, larger stock of laboratory space and a stronger leadership base in the bioscience community." The report adds that small biotech companies "simply do not have the resources or the need for technician level workers."

Baltimore should model the efforts in Berkeley and Spokane, the researchers say. The projects in those locations reveal several applicable lessons: initiatives and programs must be employer-driven; programs must reflect shifts in technology and markets; and healthy relationships among employers, educational institutions and other area players must be present.

A new nonprofit corporation called BHR2 (Bio Human Resource 2), created as part of the consultants' sectoral employment plan for Baltimore, would help facilitate the above lessons. BHR2 would act as an extension of bio employers' human resource departments, serving to recruit and retain qualified candidates, and would work with a Baltimore Bio HR Network to be supervised by the Maryland Bioscience Alliance.

The report also recommends establishing a Bio Pilot Program that would consist of a biosciences leadership steering group, a similar HR network as that of BHR2, and a coordinated program for employment and training services. The city could apply for a $100,000 Department of Labor (DOL) grant and use $180,000 in existing training funds to get the pilot program started. For the entire strategic plan, the researchers say implementing the training portion will require five to 10 years.

BWIB was created in September 2000 following legislation under the Workforce Investment Act to form such boards. Funding for the Baltimore Bioscience Initiative, as well as the blueprint for the Bio Pilot Program, came from a DOL planning grant. Both reports are available at http://www.baltoworkforce.com.