Boston looks to biotech to rescue beleaguered economy

March 08, 1992|By Susan Diesenhouse | Susan Diesenhouse,New York Times News Service

BOSTON -- In April, the Genzyme Corp., a fast-growing biotechnology company, will begin construction of a pharmaceutical plant here, giving Massachusetts at least a symbolic victory in its fight to overcome a reputation for being too unfriendly, costly and fiscally unstable for new manufacturing enterprises.

Genzyme plans to build a $110 million plant and headquarters here as part of a $400 million biotechnology industrial park intended to accommodate a million square feet of laboratories, offices and factories.

Now, regional economists are pointing to Genzyme's project as one path to rescue Boston's besieged economy, with the potential to help generate tens of thousands of jobs to lift the city and Massachusetts out of recession.

"Biotechnology will definitely play a role in the recovery," said Lynn E. Browne, chief regional economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, "and this plant has symbolic value as a statement that the region is not unwelcoming to business and has an industry that is flowering."

If more local biotechnology companies stay here, and others move in as the biotechnology fields evolve from research to manufacturing, new industries will emerge.

"Biotechnology could be a replacement industry like computers were in the 1960s and 70s," said Wayne M. Ayers, chief economist for the Bank of Boston. "But it will happen much faster; instead of 20 years, it will take eight."

By then, companies that use biological processes to create products for human health care, animal care, agriculture and environmental control will provide about 75,000 jobs in Massachusetts, according to projections by Ayers, the Massachusetts

Biotechnology Council, a trade group, and the state's Office of Economic Affairs. That figure compares with about 14,000 jobs they currently provide, and 103,000 jobs in the state's computer and electronic industries.

Those projected 60,000 new research and manufacturing jobs will help revive an economy that has lost 367,000 jobs since 1988; included in that figure are some of the 199,000 manufacturing jobs lost since 1984.

Furthermore, jobs in biotechnology pack a greater growth punch than their numbers imply, according to recent economic impact reports.

"These workers are highly paid," Ms. Browne said. "The intellectual aura associated with them attracts other knowledge-based industries such as software and artificial intelligence, and the manufacturing facilities are very expensive

to build."

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