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SC life science growth outpaces Southeastern neighbors

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South Carolina’s life science industry is the fastest growing in the Southeast, according to an economic impact study presented at the 2022 SCBIO Life Sciences Conference.

“We are growing at a blistering pace, almost two times faster than North Carolina and two and half times faster than Georga, Alabama and Tennessee,” said SCBIO CEO James Chappell. “And we’re not done yet.”

North Carolina still leads in terms of employment per capital, and South Carolina is in the “middle of the pack.” But Chappell expects that if the state’s sector growth rate continues, by 2027, the state would move to third per capita for life science jobs. Each year, according to the study, the sector grows by 8.1%.

The life sciences remain one of the state’s most robust industries with a 42% growth rate for the sector's “core” companies — those that participate solely in the life science supply chain — since 2017,  according to the report. Since the sector's last study in 2021, the sector's economic impact has grown by 62%.

“If you factor in the ecosystem support jobs, it’s even higher,” Chappell said during his Wednesday keynote. “We have a total of 90,000 of those jobs across the state. So when I got this, my first question was, what’s happening? Is this happening everywhere? The short answer is yes, it is unique to South Carolina.”

In 2017, 700 life science “core” enterprises were scattered across the state. Four years later, more than a thousand have put down roots and are starting to cluster around metro areas, according to Chappell.

“South Carolina really stands out,” said Joey Von Nessen, state economist and author of the study. “Not only when we look at the absolute numbers again within the state, but also comparing South Carolina to the rest of the Southeast.”

He presented data revealing that South Carolina’s life science industry out performed the average of all other sectors in the state over the past decade in terms of annual employment growth. Over the past two years, the sector has continued on uninterrupted through the pandemic and in some areas, has mushroomed.

“This is most striking if we just compare the pandemic period, looking at 2019 and comparing that to 2020, where we see growth rates of 4.9% in the positive (for the life sciences) compared to minus 4.8% for South Carolina as a whole,” Von Nessen said during his presentation of the study. “This is for a variety of reasons, of course, but primarily to overall demand.”

The economic impact of the sector grew from $11 billion to $26 billion in the Palmetto State over the past four years.

“The economic impact itself goes well beyond just the activities of the firms themselves,” said the research economist, hailing from the University of South Carolina Darla Moore Business School. He added that 39% of the close to 90,000 people employed in the life science sector work at a company that serves the industry but may not be considered a life science company itself.

Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath, president and CEO of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization discussed South Carolina’s industrial strength and manufacturing’s critical place in the medical supply chain during her keynote Wednesday morning.

“It’s almost been a neglected part of the pipeline," she said. "It’s been a part that’s considered not where the real innovation is, and yet, actually a lot of the newest innovations are coming in the manufacturing space.”

Reach Molly Hulsey at 864-720-1223.

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