Medical and Biotech Industries Grow in N.H. Despite Workforce Challenges

Sep 29, 2017

The Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute, or ARMI, will work on developing new approaches to biotechnology.
Credit Allegra Boverman, NHPR

The medical and biotechnology industries have grown in New Hampshire the past few years as companies continue to move and expand throughout the state.

Liisa Rajala is an associate editor for the New Hampshire Business Review.

She spoke with Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley about the future of bio and medical technology in the state, and how these industries have already made an impact on cities like Manchester.

Let's get a brief recap of what this growth of the Manchester area is looking like. It's been going on for years now.

Sure. Well there's a lot of product development firms in the greater Manchester area that are working with firms out of the Boston area and helping them perfect their medical devices. So we have Helix Design in Manchester, Sunrise Labs—they're now located in Bedford. And they're working with these firms on sometimes connected devices, working with FDA regulations on cyber security and usability requirements. And so really it shows that in the greater Manchester area there's a lot of firms that are part of this sort of supply chain of the development of medical devices.

What's been the impact of these industries on the city as a whole?

Sure. Well I think really with Manchester it's the Advancement Regenerative Manufacturing Institute, ARMI, that speaks to what Manchester could be in this field. The Institute just launched its opening about a month and a half ago. And Dean Kamen really foresees that this is going to draw other companies from around the country that want to be located in Manchester to be close to the research of bio fabrication, creating tissues and organs for first soldiers. And so that will then draw more people into Manchester. He believes that'll will help the restaurant scene and it'll make Manchester location for people to gather.

What does it mean culturally to towns and cities where some of these companies have located?

Sure. Well I mean these are high paying jobs. The average salary for one of these jobs in the biotech or med tech industry is $100,000. So these are individuals that are well educated, will be spending their money in restaurants, and attending events in their area. So it really has good potential to boost the areas in which they live. And I think Manchester is the best example, and that's why you know Dean Kamen first sees this to be an opportunity with ARMI. We're drawing in more individuals that will be eating along Elm Street and boosting the economy of the city.

You know we've been talking about the Millyard in Manchester here, but there is some expansion of biotech in the Seacoast area. You've kind of covered that in your reporting. Can you tell us more about that?

Sure. Lonza Biologics, they’re the fifth largest employer in Portsmouth. And so I've talked with an individual there who is telling me about how they really expect to grow even further in the future. But they've had some concerns regarding finding the right workforce and finding more employees. They said it's difficult competing with the Boston area because some people want to remain in the larger city and in that environment. But they have started partnering with the University of New Hampshire, and they bring in interns and eventually hire those interns. And they're finding that to be a positive avenue for growing their company.

And of course that helps keep some people who are just graduating in the state instead of having them leave the area.

Yeah, that's a major concern I think for these companies. I mean even Adimab, which is in Lebanon, New Hampshire, I was told by the Huot Technical Center, which is the Career and Technical Education Center for Laconia High School in its greater school system, that Adimab had donated [$2,000 worth of equipment]* to them to help grow their biotech program and encourage more people to enter that career path.

It's probably you know the usual issue with any rural state is just having the workforce to attract and hold these companies.

I think that's the most major concern with New Hampshire's low unemployment rate, is making sure that there's the workforce available before these companies move into the state.

What are companies telling you as far as why New Hampshire is attractive to them? Is it the fact that geographically, of course, it's close to Boston. You've got no major routes in and out. Is it the the lifestyle that you can have here in New Hampshire? What is it that is attracting them and their workers to New Hampshire specifically over other areas?

I think part of it’s the lifestyle. Some of them already grew up in New Hampshire, and have some sort of connection to the state. But also they do mention it's cheaper real estate up here. And I spoke with Cindy Harrington who's with the Bureau of Economic Affairs, and she told me she really thought that this is the potential for growth for New Hampshire, and the fact that in Boston the area is kind of getting priced out for some people in terms of the real estate that's increasing. So she expects that more of these companies will be looking to New Hampshire to find cheaper real estate and not have to deal with the terrible commute.

Now are we seeing a lot of this growth not only spreading out from the Millyard over towards the seacoast, but maybe into the upper valley and other parts of the state?

I haven't heard anything about that in my work. I know that for those are located in the Dartmouth region. Well there are some young people that once they're done with their time at Dartmouth College are looking to leave the area because it is isolated. There's other individuals, researchers there that feel that the commute to Boston where they are doing sometimes clinical trials, is actually very doable for them. So perhaps that could be potential for the North Country, but I don't see that as of yet. 

*Note: This transcript has been edited lightly for broadcast.  It has also been corrected.  The guest originally misstated the size and type of donation from Adimab.