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Now is the time to rethink how we build a modern life sciences infrastructure for the next generation

Debbie Hart, CEO and president of BioNJ.
Debbie Hart, CEO and president of BioNJ. - ()

PlanSmart NJ recently announced its findings on underutilized office and retail centers in its Guide to the Future.

In response to PlanSmart NJ’s cry to redevelop these “stranded” real estate assets, I’d like to emphasize the opportunity to utilize such real estate to house lab space for startup and emerging life sciences companies, thereby, removing an impediment to the continuing growth of life sciences startups in New Jersey and in the region.

The life sciences industry, particularly emerging biotechnology companies, is a major and growing employer and is vital to the overall economic health of New Jersey, responsible for nearly $36 billion in GDP, $2.4 billion in local and state tax revenues, and supporting over 242,000 jobs. To put this in perspective, the number of people dependent on this industry is about the size of the population of Newark and about three times greater than that of Trenton.

The biotechnology, pharmaceutical and medical device companies that drive long-term economic development and high wage employment are critically dependent upon a robust, early stage pipeline of startups and growth companies. These companies in turn require a host of resources — very few as important as lab space where they conduct early stage research and development.

Despite the outstanding physical infrastructure of legacy big pharma facilities, some of which have unfortunately become stranded assets, New Jersey has limited incubator and “graduation” space facilities ranging from a few hundred square feet housing an individual entrepreneur to several thousand square feet for companies as they grow. Existing facilities are at capacity and companies are clamoring for more.  

With so many options for smart investments in lab space, near universities, near commercial centers, near rail and public transit, now is the time to rethink how to build a modern life sciences infrastructure for the next generation. No one solution will work for all companies or for all geographic areas of the State. A coordinated effort is required to ensure that appropriate facilities are put in places where they are needed and where they will truly make a difference to jobs and economic growth.

Recent regional investments, including Alexandria’s LaunchLabs in NYC, highlight the need for lab space as a regional issue and underscore the need for New Jersey to tackle this head on…before someone beats us to it. 

Debbie Hart is the CEO and president of BioNJ.

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