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Pittsburgh is rising the ranks of best US life sciences hubs. These resources for budding startups help the sector grow

CBRE's latest report puts the city at #23 among the country's top talent hubs. It's the institutional expertise, high volume of relevant grads and low cost of living that makes the city so attractive for life sciences companies, these pros say.

Attention, life sciences sector. (Photo by Pexels user Polina Tankilevitch, used under a Creative Commons license)
Pittsburgh’s status as a growing life sciences hub remains secure for another year.

A new jump in national rankings clarifies that even as stakeholders have expressed concerns about the city’s strategy to secure the sector’s future, founders are choosing to launch or move their companies here, as nearby universities and other resource centers have provided essential resources for the sector and new employers have moved in.

According to commercial real estate and investment firm CBRE’s US Life Sciences Research Talent report for 2023, the Steel City ranks at 23rd for life sciences research talent. It’s a mark of progress for the city, as in 2022, Pittsburgh ranked #25 out of the 74 cities analyzed by CBRE.

Just as JLL’s life sciences cluster report did in 2022, this report’s authors attribute this to Pittsburgh’s plethora of researchers, universities producing life science graduates, and the 23rd lowest cost of living of all the ranked markets to top off its appeal.

“Both local and national investors are exhibiting a strong interest in owning life science real estate here and are increasingly acquiring and expanding the younger companies that use our lab space,” Pittsburgh CBRE VP Andrew Miller said. “The region’s talent pool, which includes a high amount of life science graduates, and the low cost of living with comparable salaries to larger markets, has a lot to do with both of those trends.”

Kelly Collier. (Courtesy photo)

From 2017 to 2022, the number of Pittsburgh’s life sciences researchers increased by 19%, which means the city added 422 positions out of a total of 4,680. Life sciences researchers also comprise 0.4% of the total labor force, one of the highest percentages in the nation. Additionally, Pittsburgh has the ninth fastest-growing rate of new life sciences graduates with 1,771 graduates in 2021, which is a 22% increase in growth from the rates seen between 2016 and 2021.

It’s the scientific expertise combined with the high volume of life sciences graduates that the region’s universities produce that LifeX Director of Ecosystem Development Kelly Collier believes makes the city so attractive to life sciences companies.

“A lot of these technologies originate here because we have such powerful research and development engines at Pitt and Carnegie Mellon and UPMC,” Collier told recently, about life science developments. “So a lot of this stuff from a clinical and scientific side develops here, originates here. And a lot of that clinical and scientific expertise is here in those institutions.”

Having lived in or visited well-known medtech hubs such as Boston and San Francisco, Resilient Lifescience cofounder Brad Holden said a personal draw to Pittsburgh was that his wife’s family was nearby. But once he and cofounder Charlie Proctor decided to start the company, they agreed that the proximity to universities and institutions such as Allegheny Health Network — and the resources and connections that come with them — made the city the perfect HQ for the young healthtech company.

Brad Holden. (Courtesy photo)

What also sets Pittsburgh apart, Holden said, was that a person can start their career in the city, and should they want to start a family and or buy a house they can afford to thanks to the city’s low cost of living.

“I mentioned the research institutions and the great universities here, but you can get an office space for a reasonable price and with a [low] cost of living, that’s very reasonable,” he told “I was in Boston recently and you can [also] have all the same resources available there here while being able to stretch your capital a lot further.” That can make a big difference for an early-stage founder, especially.

Holden’s sentiment was echoed by the report’s authors, who noted that both local and national investors have shown interest in owning life science real estate in Pittsburgh — and those same investors are increasingly acquiring and expanding younger companies that are already using lab space in the city.

On a national level, despite the turbulent state of the economy, the life sciences sector has been a source of stability. Not only that, but the sector itself has managed to see a demand the report says is above its pre-pandemic levels.

When it comes to Pittsburgh, researchers and founders anticipate the city’s life sciences sector will continue to thrive.

“In the coming years, the growing interest of investors, companies and employees in Pittsburgh is anticipated to fuel our rise as a burgeoning life sciences hub,” Miller said.

Also named in the CBRE report are markets Philadelphia, which now ranks sixth on the national list, and Washington DC/Baltimore, ranked third.

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: Resilient Lifescience / CBRE / LifeX

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