Biotech industries will be able to benefit from tax credits, relocation incentives under Florida's new designation
By Frank Norton
Gov. Jeb Bush's office is designating biomedical technology a "high-impact" industry, providing tax credits and investment incentives to biotech companies investing or expanding in the state.
The move was spurred by disappointment from the state's loss of significant bio-tech business to other parts of the US that more aggressively targeted and lured such companies, according to Enterprise Florida Inc., the state's economic development partner.
The state agency has been targeting the biomedical technology industry for several years as a way to create high-paying jobs.
The "high-impact" designation allows for a 5% tax credit to biomedical technology firms investing more than $25 million and creating at least 100 jobs in the state. It also clears the way to pay incentives to out-of-state firms planning to invest more than $100 million and create at least 100 full-time jobs within 3 years. For research firms, those requirements are $75 million and 75 jobs.
But while incentives may help attract and retain some companies, they don't necessarily help build an adequate workforce, said Claire Robinson, chairwoman of BioFlorida, a Gainesville-based membership organization promoting biosciences industries in Florida.
"The biggest challenge is providing an adequate bio-tech workforce capable of developing and commercializing new products," she said. "And that has to come from higher education. It's a matter of designing the right curriculum that can address those needs."
With more than 2,000 firms and 50,000 workers, Florida ranks second in the US in biomedical employment, according to Enterprise Florida. Significant in-state business sectors include medical devices, pharmaceuticals, software development and research and testing.
"We need people that are able to develop products through pre-clinical, testing and manufacturing stages," Ms. Robinson said.
Gary Perry, professor of neuroscience at Florida Atlantic University, said South Florida's higher-education industry will need to strengthen market-based curricula if the state is to grow significantly beyond tourism and agriculture economies.
South Florida issues relating to the restoration of the Everglades and aging retirement populations should further attract biotechnology firms to the area, he said.
As a whole, Florida is the nation's fourth-largest state in population and ranks third in the consumption of pharmaceuticals, according to BioFlorida.
"But if these guys can't recruit locally, they're just not going to come," Mr. Perry said
While Ms. Robinson, also vice president of product development at Miramar-based Sunol Molecular Corp., predicts enormous growth in the biomedical industry nationwide, she said the question for South Florida is whether the workforce will constrict growth in the industry.
"There is plenty of room for growth so it's a matter of recognizing it and understanding what the drivers are," she said. "It's got to be a cooperation between academia, government and the industry."