Region Would Benefit From Biotech Expansion
While the biotechnology industry expands in other parts of the metro area, cities like Brentwood and Maplewood benefit from expendable incomes.
Nearly every candidate running for office in the midterm elections was touting the benefit of biotechnology. The combination of science and business has not only been promised to help grow local economies but also provide numerous new job opportunities to a region hit hard by the recession.
The high concentration of research facilities and companies help make our region very strong on the biotech front. Brentwood and Maplewood, although proximally close to St. Louis biotech centers, are not on the radar for major biotech development. Instead, these cities will benefit from the region's biotech boom in an indirect manner.
Biotech is a broad term used to describe two fields: life science and plant science. Life sciences include everything from manufacturers of medical devices, like Brentwood's Meridian Medical Technologies, to pharmaceutical companies and large research hospitals, like BJC Healthcare.
Plant science, on the other hand, comprises St. Louis' growing agribusiness sector, which includes seed production companies like Monsanto and research organizations like the Danforth Plant Science Center.
In order to explain how biotech helps the Brentwood/Maplewood area, Denny Coleman, president of the St. Louis County Economic Council, said one must look at the roles that each city currently functions in the region.
"No one sector of the economy is going to be our only focus," Coleman said. "But biotech is one area that can be exploited for future growth. And Maplewood and Brentwood may significantly represent smaller companies."
Between the two of them, BJC Healthcare and Meridian Medical Technologies employ more than 500 people in Brentwood.
But there are more than 400 plant and medical enterprises that employ 16,500 scientists and support staff throughout the entire St. Louis region.
Opening in 2011, the Helix Center will be St. Louis County's own business incubator dedicated to providing all the necessary equipment and training to fresh biotech start-ups from the local area.
Maplewood is a prime example of how a statewide and regional development initiative, like biotechnology, translates to smaller city life. City Manager Marty Corcoran said if the region attracts biotech companies, Maplewood and similar cities will benefit primarily through the presence of new professional employees that have expendable incomes.
Brentwood Assistant City Administrator Ellen Dailey shares the same beliefs about biotechnology as Corcoran.
"Brentwood is more focused on the manufacturing side of biotechnology," said Dailey, giving Meridian as the best example. "While Creve Cour and other places with a critical mass of biotech companies are more focused in the research and development. But these companies bring a strong employment base to Brentwood that support our retail and commercial businesses."
In addition to smaller biotech companies, St. Louis is home to major agricultural and biotech companies, Monsanto being the obvious giant in the region.
Karla Goldstein, a spokeswoman for the Danforth Center, said this emphasis in developing biotech comes from the fact that St. Louis naturally sits in the heart of the agricultural sector of the United States.
"There is a real effort to take advantage of the resources we already have," Goldstein said. "Not many people realize that if you draw a circle within 500 miles of St. Louis, 50 percent of US agriculture is produced within that circle."
When people claim that biotech will create new jobs, we must be clear about what type of jobs will be available.
"The bulk of the jobs will be scientific," Goldstein said. "But like any industry, you must have your support people."
As the industry grows, there will be a need for people to work in support areas like intellectual property law, insurance and facility administration.
Coleman said that while biotech workers from Maplewood and Brentwood go to other cities during the day, they will come back and live and shop in those districts.
"For instance, Brentwood has some major shopping areas," Coleman said. " But you need those large primary industries in those major employment centers in the region."
He said that the economic vitality of the region is tied to those big employment centers. Once the centers grow, areas that are more concentrated in the residential and retail shopping aspect of the economy like Brentwood will greatly benefit.
"When you have a major presence like Monsanto, that company will derive services from smaller companies," Coleman said.
They will employ everything from accounting firms to landscaping companies, so other companies can benefit.