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Patrick keeps a promise to the biotech industry

Governor set to sign $1b benefit plan

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Todd Wallack
Globe Staff / June 16, 2008

When the world's biggest biotechnology trade show opened in Boston last year, Governor Deval L. Patrick unveiled a bold proposal to pump $1 billion into the state's growing life sciences industry over the next decade.

Today, Patrick is headed to this year's convention in San Diego to tell biotech executives he is finally delivering on that promise.

After months of tweaking the plan, both the Senate and House ratified the final version of the bill last week. Patrick is slated to sign the legislation this morning at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston before jetting off to the annual BIO show, run by the Biotechnology Industry Organization trade group. The bill includes $250 million in tax incentives for companies, $250 million in grants, and $500 million for infrastructure, much of which is earmarked for the state university system. Several local biotech companies, including Shire PLC, Genzyme Corp., Wyeth, and Organogenesis Inc., stand to directly benefit from the legislation.

Patrick said the legislation gives him a powerful platform to sell Massachusetts to biotech leaders - encouraging more companies to expand or set up shop here.

"We've got an awful lot to offer," Patrick said in an interview. "We are all about selling it."

The governor isn't heading to California alone. Roughly four dozen state and local officials are also going, including House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and Senate President Therese Murray, in an effort to promote the state's growing biotech industry. Massachusetts, along with San Diego and the San Francisco Bay area, is widely considered one of the top biotech clusters in the world.

Though biotech still only accounts for a little more than 1 percent of the state's workforce, Patrick has focused on nurturing the life sciences industry because of its growth potential, high salaries, and ability to pump money into the economy.

Tomorrow and Wednesday, he and other Massachusetts leaders plan meetings and receptions with business executives, including a party at Petco Park, the baseball stadium where the San Diego Padres play. Patrick and former Florida governor Jeb Bush are also headlining a keynote discussion on government's role in fostering biotech research. At the event tomorrow, BIO is expected to honor Patrick as its "Governor of the Year."

At least five other state lawmakers are expected to attend BIO, in addition to Murray and DiMasi. Representative Michael Rodrigues, Democrat of Westport, said he was excited about meeting with biotech executives to pitch the state.

"I hope to meet as many biotech executive as I can to build up what I started last year," said Rodrigues, who will also be on a panel at the convention.

Meanwhile, Representative Cory Atkins, Democrat of Concord, said she was excited about learning ways that Massachusetts can help team up with industry to better prepare students for careers in life sciences and technology. "I'm looking to meet academics and others in the industry," Atkins said.

Cyndi Roy, a Patrick spokeswoman, estimated the state is spending more than $250,000 on the convention, for travel, marketing materials, sponsorship of the Massachusetts pavilion at the show, and hosting parties for biotech executives. The cost of sending each employee is about $1,700. But taxpayers won't be picking up the tab for everything. Some legislators, for instance, are paying for the trip with campaign funds. And some quasi-public agencies may also use private money.

More than 50 Massachusetts companies are planning to send representatives, among them: Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. chief executive Joshua Boger (who is also the chair of the Biotechnology Industry Organization), Genzyme chief executive Henri Termeer, and Jeff Elton, chief operating officer of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research in Cambridge.

"Bio is very important," said Robert Coughlin, head of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, which represents the state's biotech industry.

While in California, Patrick also plans to attend three hours of meetings Thursday morning with Hollywood executives interested in building film studios or other facilities in Massachusetts.

Todd Wallack can be reached at twallack@globe.com.

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