The Boulder Chamber View: Take Steps Now to Sustain Growth in Biosciences

Boulder’s key industry clusters are strong and have been a source of our economic resilience throughout the pandemic. The aerospace industry sustained its solid foundation, while the information technology/software cluster continues to grow as the rate of digital adoption accelerates. The outdoor products, natural foods and cleantech industries provide a wide range of entrepreneurial opportunities and have given Boulder much of its business character. Still further, our research and development institutions, both in the University of Colorado Boulder and federally funded laboratories, provide the basis for innovation in our economy. Most recently, however, the biosciences industry has been the focus of attention as an exciting growth area.

The biosciences industry itself has many subsegments. Companies like CordonPharma, KBI BioPharma and AGC Biologics represent a strong pharmaceutical contract manufacturing cluster. Additionally, bioassay production and research companies, such as Invitae and Somalogic, are local success stories as much of their technology has been spawned in the region. Boulder also has a strong medical device industry, with companies such as Medtronic that creates products for the healthcare and medical diagnostic industry.

Much of this success is attributed to resources within CU Boulder. The BioFrontiers Institute plays a critical role in not only providing core instrumentation for groundbreaking research, but also serves as a launching pad for startups. However, the demand for incubation and hatch spaces far exceeds available resources. Recognizing this deficit, the Colorado Coalition, led by Innosphere Ventures, has proposed the Boulder Wetlabs initiative as part of their Build Back Challenge grant application. If awarded, this grant could provide Colorado with up to $100 million to foster innovation at scale for both the biosciences and cleantech industries.

Concerningly, though, our exciting past successes and future opportunities have been met with certain headwinds that are core to Boulder.

Many considerations go into the design and construction of a bio facility. Very specialized instrumentation and HVAC equipment are a necessity. Further, the growth and opportunity window for companies either expanding into or within Boulder are very time dependent. It is therefore imperative that these facilities get up and running quickly to leverage what is often a major investment in a highly competitive market. Accordingly, the local planning and permitting process needs to be equally as rapid and understanding to allow our local biotech firms to pursue promising opportunities.

The biosciences industry is also challenged with talent acquisition. Many R&D employees are sourced from CU, but mid-level managers and executives remain in high demand. The industry also struggles to hire specialized workers. Accordingly, The Healthcare Sector Partnership facilitated by the Boulder Chamber is convening industry and educational institutions to both identify skills needs and to create certification and work-based learning opportunities to fill the biotechnology workforce pipeline. These efforts have created programs in the areas of medical assistants, sterile processing, surgical technology, and bio-manufacturing and continue to identify new skills gaps and solutions.

Lastly, the health of any cluster strictly relies on the opportunity for our workforce to live, work, and play locally. The cost of housing continues to be a concern for companies with local operations, as they either try to retain local talent or entice employees to relocate to the area. Any relief or flexibility for housing, either via policies or programs, is highly welcome and a motivation for the Boulder Chamber’s advocacy efforts.

With significant business investments, initial public offerings, venture capital infusions and organic growth, the future is bright for biosciences here in Boulder. However, permitting, workforce availability and affordable housing continues to challenge not just the biosciences industry but all our industry clusters. We must improve in these core areas to sustain that economic resiliency that benefited our community throughout even the darkest hours of the pandemic.

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