California's Industrial Biotechnology Workforce: Creating Jobs and Leading Innovation

A recent survey of California’s pioneering industrial biotechnology sector shows that this sector has great potential for job growth in the state.

California’s industrial biotechnology industry increased employment by 632 percent in the past five years, according to a survey conducted by BayBio and BIOCOM, the leading biotechnology industry associations in the state, and Radford, a compensation consulting firm. California’s industrial biotechnology industry is creating new jobs for skilled workers and promises to benefit the world through new and sustainable fuel sources, feedstock, enzymes and green industrial chemicals.

With the proper investment in the workforce, and cooperation from the state government, the sector, like the life sciences industry before it, is poised to be a major employer and growing source of innovation in California for years to come.

It is the mission of both BayBio and BIOCOM to guide and inform relevant workforce training and to work with legislators to help create a regulatory and business environment that is conducive to the continued growth and success of the sector. The associations conducted the second annual statewide Industrial Biotechnology Workforce Survey to get a snapshot of the sector’s growth over the past few years and to identify areas where industry might better work with academia and industry to ensure that California remains a global leader in the space.

Among the 15 companies that reported having at least one employee in 2006, there was an aggregate increase of 75 percent in the total number of employees. Eighteen companies reported having no employees in 2006 and now account for 3,254 jobs.

“California has already emerged as the world’s innovative hub for industrial biotechnology, just as it is the global leader in the life sciences,” said Joe Panetta, President and CEO of BIOCOM, the largest regional life science trade association in the world. “Innovative technology from the state’s universities, a talented life science workforce and the supportive providers that fueled the growth of the life sciences here are also the foundation for new and emerging sectors. In the coming years, human capital will be a key factor in successfully growing the industrial biotechnology sector, and Radford’s demand-driven employment analysis is just what we need to proactively build our workforce and catalyze innovation in this field.”

Seventy eight percent of companies responding to the California Industrial Biotech Workforce Survey have their headquarters in California and 81 percent have their research and development facilities in the state. Only 45 percent of the respondents have located their pilot scale facilities in California, and an even smaller percent have built their commercial scale plants in the state, citing the cost of doing business and the regulatory environment.

As for jobs, the survey showed that it is no coincidence that the state that is home to the largest life science clusters has now given rise to the industrial biotechnology sector. Hiring for industrial biotechnology has focused on chemists, molecular and cell biologists, fermentation specialists and chemical engineers, according to the survey. Nearly 90 percent of the industrial biotechnology workforce worked in biotechnology prior to their current position. And in the future, the industry will be in need of workers with hands-on, commercial-scale experience in chemical processing, the survey showed.

“It’s evident that the California industrial biotechnology sector is a real job engine and we need competitive policies that will allow our state to grow and retain these companies,” said Gail Maderis, President and CEO of BayBio, the Northern California biotechnology industry trade association. “It is important for California’s policy makers and educational institutions to be aware of the challenges and opportunities facing these emerging companies in order to bolster the strength of California’s biotechnology industry and help bring innovative, environmentally advantageous products to market.”