State of Life Sciences - Wake County Poised to Capitalize on Industry Growth

By Albert Alwang, Economic Development Manager, Wake County Economic Development

Wake County Economic Development (WCED) kicked off 2021 with a panel on Life Science. The panel included representatives from the North Carolina Biotech Center, Lincoln Harris, and Deloitte Consulting, and can be watched below. 

Regional Fundamentals led to Industry Success in 2020 

North Carolina was recognized as the 2020 “State of the Year,” by the economic development publication Business Facilities. A key contributor to the state’s success lies in the Research Triangle’s 2020 growth in the Life Science industry. The region saw at least 14 economic development announcements in the industry, with around 3,000 new jobs and $1.5 billion in capital investments. In a year consisting of uncertainty across the economy, panelists highlighted the reason why life science companies continue to choose the region as a destination: talent, industry research and development, and the presence of large companies. 

Wake County and the region have made significant investments in developing the workforce demanded by the industry. One indicator of this success is that the bioscience industry reported the highest satisfaction in the workforce across all industries, during the regional skills analysis completed last year. A large portion of this workforce is conducting the innovative research propelling the future of the industry. In fact, in 2019 more than 17,000 individuals were employed in Research and Development (R&D)* in life science companies in the Triangle. These professionals are working collaboratively across private companies, non-profit research organizations, and regional universities. This concentration of ideas and talent is why the Triangle is home to the top metro for National Institutes for Health (NIH) funding per capita, and this mix of qualified workers and innovation has already attracted some of the world’s largest biopharmaceuticals to the region. This includes FujiFilm Biotechnologies, GSK, Grifols, Novo Nordisk. And in 2020 Elli Lily announced a $474 million manufacturing plant in Research Triangle Park (RTP), bringing 460 jobs to the Triangle. 

Experts anticipating several trends in the life science industry 

Lab space has always been a consistent need for life science companies in the region. However, due to the successes of the industry, the triangle should anticipate an acceleration in the demand for these spaces. Additionally, the panelists highlighted key characteristics of this demand; speed and flexibility. Speed reflects the shrinking timelines companies are facing to get in a building and become operational. Companies are searching the market for existing buildings and/or ready-to-build sites, and are making decisions on locations based on speed to production. Companies are interested in flexible sites that can be transformed to match company specific production. Luckily, North Carolina is home to a robust life science ecosystem that includes more than 2,400 businesses expertise and services to help develop the spaces for these demands.

The COVID pandemic has shed a light on the vulnerabilities in many companies' supply chains. Meaning companies are evaluating ways to reduce risk along their supply chains and pursuing the prospects of ‘reshoring’ operations in the US. Notably, ‘reshoring’ does not refer to companies’ closing facilities overseas, however it does represent new investments and jobs for US communities. Part of this supply chain is bolstering domestic logistics (ex. warehouses and cold storage), but the region should anticipate an increase in companies opening up operations that have been primarily carried out overseas

Panelists highlighted the emergence of cell and gene therapy companies and anticipate high growth in the industry over the next couple of years. These companies tend to be young (8 - 10 years), laser focused on speed to market, and are often acquired from larger companies, even if they don’t yet have a final product on the market. Our region is thriving in this sub-sector, with Cellectis’ Wake County expansion as a prime example. 

Finally, life science companies, like many others, are being more intentional about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in their operations and mission. Companies are looking for communities that are not only diverse in their population, but are embracing DEI initiatives and tackling the social justice issues that defined 2020. As part of their site selection process, they are evaluating communities they can collaborate with on DEI initiatives and are taking note of existing private partnerships within the community. Regional Programs like the Triangle DEI Alliance, through the Raleigh Chamber are the types of programs companies are investing in.  

For more information on Wake County and the Regional Life Sciences please visit our website: Wake County - Life Science Industry. 


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