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Columbia Business Monthly

Life Sciences Advances in S.C.

Oct 27, 2017 08:39AM ● By Emily Stevenson

Mack Reese of Gateway Development Services discusses the WestEdge project

By John McCurry


Moving the needle was a phrase heard several times during the annual SCBIO conference, which wrapped up at Charleston’s Gaillard Center on Thursday. At least two life sciences needles seem to be moving—the state’s industry, which is providing an estimated annual economic impact of $11.4 billion—and SCBIO itself, which is growing rapidly as the industry’s primary state association.

Among the accomplishments is a new memorandum of understanding with the S.C. Dept. of Commerce that requires SCBIO to increase its engagement with the industry. There’s a vastly improved website and new offices in Columbia and Charleston. The conference’s record attendance of 270 represented a diverse cross section of the industry. There are an estimated 1,500 life sciences companies in South Carolina, so the potential is great for the conference to grow.

Sam Konduros, SCBIO’s president and CEO, says his organization has a vision of developing the nation’s most industry friendly and innovative life science ecosystem and business environment with the goal of fueling a knowledge economy.

“We are tailor-made to be a landing place for international companies,” he said.

Arthrex, a Naples, Fla.-based orthopedic medical device manufacturer, was mentioned several times as an example of a recent expansion in S.C. The company announced on Oct. 16 that it would invest $69 million and create 1,000 jobs in Anderson County.

“Arthrex choosing South Carolina is almost like the state getting a small BMW,” Konduros said.

Joey Von Nessen, who conducted a study of the state’s life sciences industry last year, said the industry has an employment multiplier of 2.9, which he said means that for every 10 jobs created by a company, another 19 are created elsewhere in the South Carolina economy. That compares to the average industry multiplier of just under 2.

“Life sciences has an ability to scale up employment in South Carolina that is fairly unique, and will only go up in time,” Von Nessen said.

Jennifer Fletcher, South Carolina’s deputy secretary of commerce, said Von Nessen’s study promoted her agency to become more involved in recruiting life sciences companies.

“The study shows how diverse the industry is in the state,” she said. “It plays to our strengths of making things and making them well.”

Jim Greenwood, the CEO of the national BIO (Biotechnology Innovation Organization), flew in from Washington as the keynote speaker. He told the audience that what remains to be learned about science is infinite.

“There are an infinite amount of avenues to pursue,” Greenwood said. “The basic formula is to make sure your research universities are doing everything the can to attract NIH (National Institute of Health) grants, and have them be good at technology transfer so they can spin out companies. By doing that you build a critical mass and venture capital gets interested.”

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg lauded his city’s success in churning out startups.

“Collaboration with research universities is so critical,” Tecklenburg said. “We are so blessed to have the Medical University of South Carolina here. They have a research budget of something like $250 million a year, which is incredible for South Carolina.

Tecklenburg cited the success of the city’s incubators, Flagship 1 and Flagship 2. He also touted the potential of the WestEdge Development, a 50-acre mixed-use research project going up between MUSC and The Citadel.

Mack Reese, of Atlanta-based Gateway Development Services, is heading up the project. He said Charleston offers a lot of global wealth and a lot of smart, fascinating people who are lured out of the woodwork to invest in projects like WestEdge. The first phase of the project is under way, and includes 150,000 square feet of speculative office and research space.

“I hope you will come back in two years and have this meeting at WestEdge,” he said.

The conference will return to Charleston’s Gaillard Center Oct 23-25 in 2018. Word is that the conference will rotate between Charleston and Greenville with a possible future top in Hilton Head.