Maine’s biological sciences industry is growing at a much faster rate than the state’s economy as a whole, bringing high-paying jobs to Mainers across the spectrum of education levels.

The industry’s accelerating growth is among the findings of a report issued Thursday by the Bioscience Association of Maine, or BioME, a Portland-based trade association devoted to promoting the growth and development of Maine’s bioscience industry and advocating for its members.

Bioscience industry job growth in Maine over the past five years has been 14 percent, compared with only 4 percent job growth for all industries combined, the report says. While the industry only provides about 1 percent of all jobs in Maine, its growth has accelerated over the past few years with the success of large employers such as Idexx Laboratories Inc. of Westbrook, which offers veterinary diagnostic testing products and services, and The Jackson Laboratory of Bar Harbor, a nonprofit biomedical research institution, it says.

Todd Paige and Mary Kay Horrisberger, marketing managers at Idexx Laboratories, discuss work on Jan. 4, 2017, the day the bioscience company was added to the S&P 500. A new report is projecting strong job growth for Maine bioscience companies. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Agnieszka Carpenter, BioME’s executive director, said the purpose of publishing the report is to give decision-makers and the public a more accurate picture of Maine’s bioscience industry, which includes fields such as biotechnology, medical research and pharmaceutical preparation and manufacturing. The report will be posted on BioME’s website Friday, she said.

“We’ve heard people quote some old data, and we also have seen that old data being presented in various articles and publications, and we just know that it is not accurate,” Carpenter said. “So we needed something more current and accurate.”

There were at least 7,400 bioscience industry jobs in Maine in 2018, paying a median hourly wage of $28.50 ($59,300 a year), nearly one-third higher than the median hourly wage of $19.79 ($41,200 a year) for all Maine industries combined, according to the report. The industry provided a wide range of jobs for workers with credentials ranging from high school diplomas to doctoral degrees, it says.

Maine’s largest employer in the bioscience industry is Idexx, with at least 3,100 employees in Maine, followed by Jackson Lab, with at least 1,300 employees in the state. Other major employers include lab equipment maker Corning Life Sciences in Kennebunk, medical swab maker Puritan Medical Products in Guilford, medical device maker Abbott in Scarborough and veterinary technology and services firm Covetrus in Portland.

The University of Maine and Maine Medical Center Research Institute also are major employers in the state’s bioscience sector, according to the report.

Bioscience industry jobs in Maine began to decline in 2009 during the Great Recession, but started to rebound in 2012 and have been increasing at an accelerated rate since 2016, according to the report.

STARTUPS MATTER

Large employers aren’t the only ones responsible for job growth in Maine’s bioscience sector. The state also has attracted high-growth-potential startups, often with the help of business development groups such as Maine & Co., Live + Work in Maine, and the Maine Technology Institute.

One such startup is Prapela, a Massachusetts company that is opening an office on the Pepperell Mill Campus in Biddeford. Prapela is developing products for clinical and consumer use that rely on patented vibration technology to calm infants born prematurely or exposed to opioids in the womb.

Unlike more traditional vibrating pads and bassinets for infants, the technology licensed exclusively by Prapela produces gentle, random vibrations that have been shown in clinical studies to not be habit-forming or affect sleep cycles, according to Prapela co-founder and CEO John Konsin.

The technology, developed at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, University of Massachusetts Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital, boosts the brain’s pacemaker neurons to enhance breathing, heart rate and relaxation in infants, he said.

Konsin said the company chose Biddeford for its product development operations because of its close proximity to Boston and the presence of two Maine-based manufacturing partners, Saunders Electronics in South Portland and Volk Packaging in Biddeford.

“Saunders, specifically, really took an active interest in what we were doing and decided early on to help partner with us on developing new electronics to control our device,” he said.

Konsin said he is moving to Biddeford and probably will be the office’s sole employee until early 2020, when he plans to hire a small product development and e-commerce staff. He said the ultimate size of Prapela’s Maine operations will depend on whether the consumer market finds its products useful for calming infants that are not preemies or going through opioid withdrawal.

“We don’t know how far this technology can go to help babies,” Konsin said. “We believe it can also help colicky babies, which is about 25 percent of all babies worldwide. We also believe that it may be able to help healthy babies.”

He credited the Maine Technology Institute of Brunswick and Maine & Co. of Portland for helping make the decision to expand into Maine an easier one. Both nonprofit business development organizations offered useful connections and expertise, Konsin said.

BOSTON CALLING

Ashley Pringle, vice president of operations at Maine & Co., said she has noticed an increase in bioscience companies that are interested in expanding into Maine, particularly from the Boston area.

“I think companies really enjoy the fact that if they expand here from Boston, they can drive to their expansion location versus having to jump on a plane,” Pringle said. “I hear that all the time from leaders of these companies that are very excited that if they do their expansion here in the state, they can jump in the car and be here within 90 minutes or two hours.”

Pringle added that with Maine’s relatively nascent bioscience sector, even small companies can expect to receive a lot of attention and assistance. That’s not necessarily the case in Massachusetts, which is considered the world’s bioscience hub with more than 4,000 bioscience employers ranging from small startups to billion-dollar pharmaceutical firms.

“When a company comes to Maine … you can have access, you can get in front of the right people you need to help grow your business,” she said. “And that’s kind of what we try to do at Maine & Co. is make it easy for them to meet with the right folks.”

Carpenter, the BioME executive director, said comparing bioscience industries in Maine and Massachusetts is a bit pointless because of Boston’s global dominance in the sector, but she said the report shows that Maine stacks up well against other New England states in some industry-related metrics.

For example, the jobs multiplier for bioscience industry jobs in Maine is second only to Massachusetts, according to the report. For every bioscience job created in Maine, an additional 1.71 jobs are created on average in other industries to support that job. That number is significantly less than the 2.71 additional jobs created in Massachusetts, but higher than Connecticut (1.65 jobs), New Hampshire (1.4 jobs), Rhode Island (1.28 jobs) and Vermont (0.96 jobs), it says.

Maine also compares favorably to most New England states when it comes to recent bioscience industry job growth, the report says. From 2013 to 2018, industry job growth was 14 percent in Maine – lower than the 26 percent growth in Massachusetts, but higher than in any other New England state, as well as the U.S. average of 10 percent growth.

“In a lot of these states, the job growth has actually been negative – in Connecticut they lost a lot of jobs, and in Rhode Island and Vermont,” Carpenter said. “No. 1 obviously is … Massachusetts, and then Maine is No. 2. So that’s, we think, very positive data and a very positive trend, and it shows that the life sciences industry in Maine is strong.”


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