Georgia Bio’s Life Sciences Summit highlights importance of state’s bio science industry

By Maria Saporta

While most other industries in Georgia have been contracting, one industry is booming — the bioscience industry.

At Georgia Bio’s Life Sciences Summit at AmericasMart on Tuesday, the results of a new economic impact study by University of Georgia economist Jeff Humphries were released.

The study showed that the life sciences industry has a $19.5 billion impact annual in Georgia — leading to 18,000 direct jobs and 75,000 direct and indirect. Those jobs pay $4.4 billion in salaries and generate $500 million in state and local taxes.

When one includes university research and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with the life sciences industry, it generates $23 billion in annual sales; creates 35,000 direct jobs and 105,000 total jobs; generates $6.2 billion in earnings and $627 million in state and local taxes.

But the most amazing finding was that the bioscience industry in Georgia had increased 22 percent in the past two years while most industries were flat or in decline.

The bio science industry experienced a 1.3 percent increase in employment versus a general decline of 6.9 percent among other industry sectors. There was a 14 percent increase in the number of companies and a 3 percent increase in salaries.

“I’ve been in the industry 30 years, and I had no idea of the economic impact of the life sciences in Georgia,” Edward Schutter, chair of the 2011 Summit and president and CEO of Arbor Pharmaceuticals, told the gathering.

Gov. Nathan Deal, who addressed the summit in a video-taped message, seemed to agree.

“The bio science industry is one of the most promising sectors,” Deal said, adding that the gathering of the biomedical community was “ushering a new era of scientific discovery” with 320 diverse bioscience companies in the state.

CDC Director Thomas Frieden reaffirmed the importance of the bio science industry in Georgia.

For example, the Atlanta-based CDC employs 8,900 people in the state and has a annual payroll of $940 million in Georgia. Frieden said that the CDC ranks among the top 15 employers in the state. And if it were a company, it would be No. 215 in the Fortune 500 list.

Frieden also said that every CDC job helps create another three jobs in Georgia for a total of 28,600 in the state.

Other CDC contributions of note include: it purchases $364 million from Georgia businesses each year. It leases 5.6 million square feet of office and lab space in the state. And it awards $71 million to Georgia’s research universities and nonprofit organizations to help stimulate collaboration, innovation and positive contributions to public health.

Quoting an ambassador, Frieden said the “CDC is the 911 for the world.” In the first two years as CDC’s director, Frieden said its emergency operations were active the whole time except for one week because of various natural disasters and outbreaks.

Frieden also made special mention of philanthropist Bernie Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot, who has given the CDC Foundation a $4 million gift.

On the other hand, Frieden said that in the last couple of years, the United States has 44,000 fewer public health officials because of cutbacks in federal, state and local budgets — which makes it agency’s task to protect the public health more difficult.

The best counterpoint is for people to become more pro-active in their own health.

Frieden called it the ABCs. The “A” is for aspirin, which helps in the prevention of strokes and heart attacks. The “B” states for blood pressure, and Frieden stressed the importance of getting that checked. And the “C”s stand for cholesterol and cessation of smoking. People who treat high cholesterol and who stop smoking also can significantly improve their long-term health.

Lastly, Frieden seemed to be especially proud of the movie “Contagion” and the fact that the CDC had a “cameo” role in the movie. While Frieden said he can’t give recommendations, he did say: “If you don’t see it, you are missing a good movie.”

Throughout the day, in various panel discussions, one fact became increasingly obvious — Georgia already has a strong foundation in the bio science industry. If companies, universities and governments can join forces, Georgia’s biomedical industry will only continue to grow.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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