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.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.