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More work needed to nurture S.C. life science industry, observers say

By Chuck Crumbo
Published March 22, 2012

Although the life sciences industry is growing rapidly and creating thousands of good-paying jobs, more work needs to be done to bolster the fledgling industry and nurture it with venture capital, observers say.

But S.C. leaders have plenty of work to do to grow the companies they already have and set the table for future firms, James Greenwood, president and CEO of BIO International, said Wednesday at a luncheon marking S.C. Life Sciences Industry Day at the State House.

james greenwood
BIO International CEO James Greenwood
“You’ve done a lot of things here very well,” Greenwood said, citing the SmartState Program that links the state’s research universities to industry, and SCLaunch, which supports new companies entering the knowledge economy. “You’re well on your way, but there’s more that needs to be done.”

With an average salary of $53,272, the state’s 614 bioscience companies have a direct economic impact of $1 billion a year, according to an economic impact study offered by the South Carolina Biotechnology Industry Organization.

Also, between 2001 and 2008, the industry grew by 15.8%. It’s projected to grow at an annual rate of 1.5% through 2018.

Public policy needs to encourage entrepreneurs by making it easier to obtain venture capital, Greenwood said.

One thing the state can do is offer a tax credit for angel investors to invest in startups, he added. Angel investors will put their money into life science companies if there are good incentives or the return on investment is favorable, Greenwood said.

“By tweaking your tax policy you can be smart enough to attract those angel investors to create the seed money, which then creates success, which then creates the arrival of venture capitalists,” he said.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Joan Brady, R-Richland, currently is being studied by the House Ways and Means Committee.

Getting private partners to back the industry is essential to its growth, House Speaker Bobby Harrell said.

“We can have the best scientists in the world, produce the most innovative research and develop great new ideas, but if we don’t have a way to translate those results to the marketplace and to the public, even our best results will have no real impact,” said Harrell, R-Charleston.

“Working with the private sector to grow our life-science industry and knowledge-based economy will make South Carolina more competitive. It can make us a world leader in innovation, and provide the fuel that our economy to grow and create new jobs,” he added.

Harrell noted that 40 years ago the average income in Columbia was higher than in Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina. But back then N.C. officials decided to develop the Research Triangle. By linking the area’s research universities with industry, the Raleigh area became a magnet for high-tech companies and enterprises.

According to website, the average pay in Raleigh is $55,898 compared to Columbia’s $52,279.

“Our states are very similar,” Harrell said. “We just needed to get innovative and get everybody working toward the same goal.

“In a very short time South Carolina has gone from sidelines to a national model for success,” he said.

Regardless of the strides the state has made in the past 10 years, Harrell noted that “it’s been a game of catch-up.”