Startups

How MoCo is making life sciences a growth priority across industries

Real estate, academic and economic development leaders in Maryland’s most populous county highlighted the sector’s potential in a recent panel. Here are some highlights.

Industry leaders speak about Montgomery County's life sciences industry.

(Photo by Technical.ly)

Montgomery County is fast becoming a major hub for health and life science companies, with the region experiencing a demand for offices and lab space that may outpace other parts of the state. A recent panel of experts from the county’s contingent real estate, scholarly and economic growth sectors gathered in The Universities at Shady Grove’s Biomedical Sciences and Engineering Education Facility to discuss the life science industry’s future — and how collaboration is spurring growth.

Here are just a few of the panel’s main takeaways:

An attractive region

Contrary to many parts of the US office market, Montgomery County is seeing an increase in market demand. It is an attractive region because of the reported $1.6 trillion in healthcare spending, as well as its high per capita concentration of Ph.Ds and housing of 18 federal government agencies.

“There has been $150 million in venture capital funding and 40,000 new jobs in Montgomery County since 2015,” said Bill Tompkins, president and CEO of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation (MCEDC). Tompkins and his team are working with the Montgomery County Council to make the relocation and office conversion process easier and faster.

“It is not as much about costs as it is about efficiency, time-to-market process and land availability,” he added.

CJ Overly, a DC-area senior project manager of development for real estate firm Boston Properties, sees the same ingredients in Montgomery County as he saw in his employer’s eponymous HQ city a decade ago. This is promising, as Boston is considered a leading hub of healthcare and medical innovation. Boston Properties is currently building the Shady Grove Innovation District, an emerging life sciences district with over a million square feet of lab and office space in Rockville.

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“The health and life sciences market here has evolved from early-stage companies building products to more mature and well-financed companies looking to become the next unicorn,” Overly told Technical.ly.  He also applauded the region’s “clustering effect,” where the proximity of health and life sciences companies can attract families relocating for job opportunities.

“Startups are high-risk, and some do fail,” he explained. “When that happens, families in Montgomery County don’t have to move and relocate and can often join another company in the area — sometimes with the same commute.”

Academic and industry collaborations

Anne Khademian, The Universities at Shady Grove’s executive director, is working with Montgomery County Public Schools and area community colleges to create affordable access and pathways to the workforce. She advocates people start the process early — even as soon as middle school — to create internships, mentorships and apprenticeships needed to create an educated workforce with relevant skills demanded by the industry.

Cautious optimism

While the panelists were generally bullish on the region’s prospects, Pete Briskman, the executive managing director and co-lead for real estate firm JLL’s mid-Atlantic life sciences work, raised a concern that the region is getting a smaller share of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) growing budget. This was especially notable since the NIH is a robust source for founders and employees of early-stage companies.

Also, while the average Montgomery County office space is 30,000 square feet, that number is skewed as the majority of offices are less than 15,000 square feet.

The panelists generally agreed that the region is working seamlessly to welcome and support health and life sciences innovation. In addition to building more offices and lab space, local universities and economic development institutions are partnering to ensure an educated workforce and minimal bureaucracy as incentives for companies looking to grow in Montgomery County.

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