Building with Biology: The Economic Acceleration of Central Massachusetts with a Bioindustrial Manufacturing Technology Hub
Building With Biology
The Blackstone River Valley in Central Massachusetts was the birthplace of the industrial revolution. Nearly 250 years later, Worcester can be a leader in the new technology driven revolution of the next century, bioindustrial manufacturing.
Bioindustrial manufacturing uses biology to improve familiar products such as leathers, plastics, concrete, and other building materials. Right here in the City of Worcester, SpadXTech, a small business in MBI’s biotech business incubator, is currently developing biology-based leathers and construction materials. Industrial Biomanufacturing also includes a growing market for bio-foods and biofuels. As sustainability challenges threaten our global supply chain, this biology driven revolution provides new building blocks to sustain our economies and supply chains.
To spur this effort, a consortium of industry leaders and academic institutions, led by MBI, has applied for a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration that would allow us to accelerate this initiative with an influx of funding to the region and a declaration of Worcester as a Regional Technology and Innovation Hub. The Consortium includes industry partners such as AbbVie, Ginkgo Bioworks, SpadXTech, and Robigo, state partners such as MassTech Collaborative and MassHIRE, academic partners like WPI and Quinsigamond Community College, as well as the Worcester Community Action Council and the Venture Forum.
The Consortium Team has identified four essential investment areas:
Workforce & Talent: In 2022, CBRE ranked Worcester a top 15 talent hub in the country, calling it an “emerging (possibly untapped) hub for life sciences talent.” Worcester is home to 11 colleges and universities that graduate over 42,000 students annually. The Consortium estimates that receipt of the EDA grant could catalyze 1,970 direct, high-wage jobs across training levels in the first five years and upwards of 8,885 new direct jobs within the first ten years with a particular focus on empowering Worcester’s large foreign-born population. The funding would connect industry and academia around the development of new skills-based training programs to bring new people into the bio industry. These efforts would be centered in a new regional workforce training center.
Commercial Pipeline: Our region is known for its technology-based research and development, however, many of our first time and foreign-born entrepreneurs need additional support raising the venture capital needed to grow and scale their businesses. One of our key priorities is to empower the Venture Forum as a front door for entrepreneurship and home to mentoring programs focused on helping these companies compete on a global stage for limited funding to start manufacturing.
Pilot-Scale Manufacturing: We interviewed over 50 startups, academic labs, investors, and incubator systems and it was clear that there is a need for pilot-scale biomanufacturing lab. Companies are currently leveraging costly therapeutic infrastructure, sitting in co-working spaces that do not meet their lab or equipment needs, or utilizing facilities far from R&D centers, which all drive up costs and timelines.
MBI received a $3.5 million investment from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center to open a pilot-scale Biomanufacturing Center, which opened on August 1, 2023 and received immediate interest. Taking this step forward, the grant consortium is evaluating the potential of establishing a Process Development Center within the space that would provide companies with the equipment and experience they need to make the transition from R&D to manufacturing and would also work with companies inventing new manufacturing technologies. Industrial companies require additional support to satisfy their unmet need.
Large-Scale Manufacturing Demand: Although Massachusetts is home to 48 active Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) facilities, most are located within 30 miles of Boston. The cost and talent pressures facing this industry speak directly to Worcester County’s value proposition. In speaking with developers and tenants, investors remain concerned about being the early adopters in our marketplace. The workforce and startup investments above all create a fertile environment for securing this industry but additional space and incentives will be required.
The Reactory, an EDA supported pad-ready biomanufacturing park, provides a location to seed the marketplace; however, global leadership will require additional pad-ready sites that meet the industry’s main pain points: cost and speed to market. We recommend a series of state and federal investments into site readiness, expedited permitting, and place-based company incentives to spur the private market.
Worcester is ready to take this next step in leading the revolution in bioindustrial manufacturing and we are hopeful that the EDA will recognize the potential in this market and join us in this effort.
To learn more or get involved in the initiative, reach out to Jon Weaver at [email protected].