Biotech boom: Boston to best Bay Area

Luke Timmerman explains why Boston is poised to overtake the Bay Area as the biotech hub of the universe - and his reasons sound a lot like the reasons why the Bay Area overtook the Boston area as the high-tech center of the world:

Success begets success and companies and innovators are drawn here by the unique concentration of companies and innovators already here - and now we've got a unique concentration of start-ups, established Big Pharma, research hospitals, Harvard and MIT. Also, everybody's piled on top of each other, especially in Kendall Square, thanks to smart zoning decisions, which is what you want in a collaborative, cross-pollinating kind of field like biotech. Plus, the Bay Area's now become too expensive for start-ups and people just getting out of college (sound familiar?). Also:

People on the West Coast sometimes like to trot out stereotypes about the sharp-elbowed competitors in Boston, how they just can't collaborate as well as us laid-back West Coasters. That's just not consistent with the Boston I've experienced. If anything, there's more of a tight-knit collaborative community in Boston than in San Francisco. There's a can-do spirit, an energy in Boston that is palpable. It will endure. Boston is reaping what it has sown for decades.

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Comments

So all this will make medications more affordable?

Wow, I hope all this competition will drive down medication prices.

Smart growth still has a problem: The public is concerned over putting labs for dangerous, infectious diseases in densely populated areas, much like it being a poor choice for a nuclear power plant, oil refinery, or pesticide/chemical plant.

Smart growth has little to do with the pharma boom. Its critical mass of companies, workers, universities, and research hospitals that have been here for a long time already. Smart growth and anti-car policies in SF has made there too expensive, so here now looks better.

What are you talking about

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What are you talking about Boston looking less expensive? Most of the growth in Boston is coming at the cost of much more affordable places to live. Pfizer has moved many people from Groton up to Cambridge, where everything is more expensive. Many Seattle area companies have been bought and then packed up and shipped to Boston. Again, moving people from cheap areas to more expensive. Roche is moving their east coast R&D group from Nutley, NJ into Manhattan. Again, from a cheaper area to a more expensive area.

All those things have happened in the last 18 months, but looking further back, we see this as a decade-long trend. The Warner-Lambert operations in Michigan were shut down and everyone was moved to more expensive coastal cities.

Pharma has done nothing to lower the cost of living for their employees.

Apples and oranges

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These firms aren't choosing between a city and the suburbs, they're choosing between multiple dense cities. Boston and SF both have a lot of the amenities that make them attractive to recent grads and firms benefiting from collaboration, but the point was that in the Bay Area, it all costs more. Comparing Groton to Cambridge or Nutley to Manhattan isn't the same as comparing Boston to the Bay Area.

The shift to urban from offshore mfg

I suspect what aided urban shift from burbs was splitting research and manufacturing. Manufacturing went offshore, Porto Rico, Devens, I-495, or other lower cost places. Other divisions went urban. Pfizer and others used to be in suburban Conn and NY, as I recall.

Showing your parochialism

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Luke writes:

When I travel to Boston, all I need is a hotel room, a subway pass, and good walking shoes to pack an amazingly efficient day of meetings with innovators. If I need to go to meet companies along Route 128, I’ll just rent a Zipcar from Kendall Square for a day. Travel to San Francisco or San Diego, and you have to rent a car (often way overpriced) and spend a fair amount of time traveling around suburban office parks, sitting in traffic.

Clearly he is using "San Francisco" as shorthand for "San Francisco Bay Area." The tech companies in "suburban office parks" are actually down the Peninsula about 30-40 miles away from San Francisco, closer to San Jose. Not the city. Generally over there, the startups are in SF, but the big established companies have their own office parks far outside.

You would like it down the Peninsula and near San Jose: the locals zealously guard their sprawl, build loads of parking lots, and widen highways regularly. Still, the traffic keeps getting worse.

Biotech

I thought the writer raised some great points about the differences in both markets.

SF / Silicon Valley has been the largest market for a generation, but Boston/Cambridge have come a long way using what resources they have at their disposal to make themselves more appealing and I agree that while there remains much work - the public/private partnerships over the past decade have helped make this area more competitive.