What Gateway Cities need to do to attract biotech firms

Gateway Cities officials today got a roadmap for attracting biotech companies from an executive of a company that moved to Massachusetts from Connecticut two years ago.

Robert Cunningham, vice president of RainDance Technologies, told officials from the 12 Gateway Cities that they need to have one point person for companies to work with and they need to work fast on permitting and zoning issues.

Cunningham spoke at a day-long gathering at UMass Boston of biotech companies, real estate developers, and municipal officials from the 12 Gateway Cities. The event was hosted by the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency. Gateway Cities is the name given to the group of urban centers across the state facing high unemployment and desperate for economic growth. The group includes Springfield, Worcester, New Bedford, Fall River, Lawrence, Lowell, Fitchburg, Holyoke, and Haverhill.

Cunningham said his company employed 50 people when it decided to relocate from its location near New Haven, where an early investor lived. He said the company looked at California, North Carolina and Massachusetts and eventually focused its attention on Massachusetts, in part because of the state's large cluster of biotech companies. Cunningham said joining the cluster was very appealing.

"We don't know why it works, but we think it works," Cunningham said.

RainDance was looking for a "bioready" facility that it could occupy quickly to begin developing the microdroplet solutions that it plans to sell to researchers in the fields of genomics and molecular epidemiology. Cunningham said the company found a location in one community but then passed on it because of a permitting problem. The company eventually secured space in Lexington.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Cunningham said companies like RainDance know little about relocating their operations so they gravitate to municipalities that make the process as easy and painless as possible. He urged community officials to have one point person who can help companies navigate zoning and permitting issues.

Cunningham said RainDance didn't need to locate in the heart of the biotech cluster in Cambridge or Boston, but wanted to be nearby. At the time, he said, Gateway Cities weren't even on the company's radar list. "We would have taken a look, but it just didn't occur to us," he said.