The city ranked 11th in JLL’s 2022 Life Sciences Research Outlook & Cluster Rankings report which examines public market trends, who’s getting funding and long-term outcomes. It marks progress, as the city didn’t make the 2021 report rankings at all.
The report found that the change could be attributed in part to a series of collaborations such as the new biotech hub coming to Hazelwood Green via ElevateBio, a cell therapy company, and the University of Pittsburgh, announced in August. But on a whole, if you asked JLL Managing Director Jason Stewart, he’d say that it was Pittsburgh’s consistency both in terms of talent and in the results it produces.
“There’s just a lot of faith, nationally, in Pittsburgh’s ability to foster this research and to fund the research,” Stewart told Technical.ly. “The University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center are more than just a name. They are truly nationally respected institutions known for life science and engineering research.”
Stewart pointed to the nearly $600 million in National Institutes of Health funding the city was awarded in 2021, and its status as a top 10 recipient of NIH funding since 1998 as an example of the confidence institutions have in the city. Marking a sign of how much entities in the cities are willing to invest in the life sciences industry, the report highlighted the fact that UPMC Enterprises has committed $1.05 billion to life sciences startups from 2020 to 2025.
So, what’s changed for the region? For starters, the report showed a 10% employment increase between 2017 and 2021 in the Pittsburgh life sciences industry, which accounts for over 23,000 jobs. Among those jobs, the roles that saw the most growth were research and development, which grew by 25% during that time.
Another pro noted in the report: The city has plenty of potential for growing relevant talent, thanks to the strength of its local universities. And some cons: It currently has a smaller talent pool, and less lab infrastructure and venture capital, than other markets.
You might think that a real estate firm would have little interest in happenings related to biochemistry and neuroscience, but for the kind of research that the life sciences field relies on to happen, those in the industry need facilities to do their work in. That’s where JLL comes in. Despite the many projects that paused out of necessity in 2020, Stewart reflected that many researchers and sciences never left the office.
“If you talk to the life science companies, we talk about the research efforts that took place at the universities, there was never really a return-to-office date for them, because they were always in the lab,” he said. “So it’s a very, very, if you will, physical industry.”
Part of the draw for life sciences companies that choose Pittsburgh as a place to call home, the report said, are that the low living and commercial rent prices are some of the lowest prices in the country. (The city was named the most affordable city to buy a house in the world in the latest Demographia International Housing Affordability Study.) Stewart asserted that another factor drawing companies here was that unlike larger cities such as Boston and San Francisco, the Pittsburgh market isn’t oversaturated with competitors.
In the meantime, although Stewart said he feels the city needs to do a better job of turning the discoveries made at universities into commercialized projects, one of the city’s true constants has always been its life sciences industry.
“When we think about engineering and discovery, most people think about Google, Uber [and] these sexy self-driving car companies,” he said. “But what really, really drives the Pittsburgh economy and what’s been here for decades is the research and life sciences and health sciences.”
Of course, Pittsburgh wasn’t alone in making the list. The City of Bridges was ranked above Houston, Minneapolis, Chicago and Denver, while Salt Lake City, Seattle and New York were ranked ahead. Philadelphia secured the No. 5 slot on the list.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.
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