Life science hits its stride on the Eastside

Life science has strong roots in Washington, contributing economically and scientifically.

A chart analyzing the percentage of employment lost and gained in the life sciences and private sector over 16 years. Courtesy of Life Sciences Washington

A chart analyzing the percentage of employment lost and gained in the life sciences and private sector over 16 years. Courtesy of Life Sciences Washington

The life science industry has deep roots in Washington, with a melting pot of academic and nonprofit research institutions, local startups, government labs and investment and even global corporations.

From the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, to the University of Washington, to the hundreds of smaller organization across the state, there are more than 90,000 jobs involved in research and innovation in biotechnology, distribution, digital health, medical equipment, pharmaceuticals and industrial bioscience as of 2017.

There was a 13 percent increase in life science jobs from 2014-17, the biggest upswing in a decade, and industry leaders emphasized these jobs are available on many levels of education.

“There are opportunities for students who have graduated from high school to begin working immediately in entry-level tech positions,” said Leslie Alexandre, CEO of Life Science Washington (LSW). “And those jobs are really well-paying jobs for someone who only has a high school degree and maybe a one-year certificate.

Overall, Washington hosts 1,144 life sciences organizations across 110 cities, according to a LSW report from Jan. 29. LSW, a nonprofit industry trade association, supports the life science industry by assisting in sustaining the workforce, educating entrepreneurs and startups, investing in research and advocating for favorable public policies.

These organizations have the strongest concentration in the greater Seattle area, with dozens throughout the Eastside. Companies from Bothell down to Bellevue and across to Snoqualmie have created hundreds of jobs and are growing.

“After several years of lackluster growth for the life science industry in Washington, we’re excited to have cultivated such strong progress across the state,” Alexandre said. “Building a life science company takes years, but we are now seeing many of our young, research-oriented companies thriving and expanding by adding manufacturing and commercial operations.”

The LSW report attributes this employment growth to companies hiring more workers after years of research and a new wave of up and coming start-ups. These companies are currently scaling up product development and adding early stage manufacturing.

“Those companies started small awhile ago,” Alexandre added. “What you’re seeing [now] is that maturation of those companies…It takes 10 years, especially on the biotech side, before you get something out of clinical trials and approved to market.”

On the upswing

LSW reports that life science job growth has outpaced the private sector in Washington since the turn of the century. With a starting point in 2001, life science index employment has grown by about 36 percent as of 2017, compared to the private sector growth of about 24 percent.

A chart analyzing the percentage of employment lost and gained in the life sciences and private sector over 16 years. Courtesy of Life Sciences Washington

A chart analyzing the percentage of employment lost and gained in the life sciences and private sector over 16 years. Courtesy of Life Sciences Washington

Alexandre credits the industry’s success to “tremendous” education opportunities and research institutions in the area, investment from the state and a prominent “pioneering spirit” in the Pacific Northwest.

“It takes the guts to really go out and say, ‘We’re going to fix this. We’re going to bring the best engineers and tackle the problem,’” Alexandre said. “When you look who’s on the West Coast you have people who immigrated here for a better life and people who crossed the Rockies. When you have someone who has lived through the elements, there is something about that ruggedness.”

While Seattle has been a hub for life science organizations, the growth of the industry, and the city itself, has led to expansion on the Eastside. Life science companies that started off in Seattle didn’t have any more space to expand within the city.

“As Seattle has grown and companies have matured, you can’t put a manufacturing operations and things on that kind of scale in South Lake Union,” said Marc Cummings, vice president of public policy and external affairs at LSW. “So what we’ve seen over the past decade as companies have grown, they need space and over the last couple years you’ve seen this growth in the biotech cluster expanding into Bothell and the Eastside.”

More than economics

Redmond, Bellevue and Bothell lead the Eastside, taking second, third and fourth largest life science hubs, behind Seattle. Kirkland, Mercer Island, Kenmore, Issaquah, Sammamish, Carnation, North Bend and Snoqualmie all trail behind, but keep pace with most cities throughout Washington.

In 2017, the state’s industry represented $22.7 billion in total economic activity and contributed $11.5 billion in value-added activity to the state’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Life science has an economical impact for Seattle and the Eastside, but the overall benefits go beyond that. The industry as a whole strives to improve quality of life across the globe and minimize human suffering by eliminating diseases.

“As a doctor of public health, I am so happy to work for the industry helping millions of people around the world,” Alexandre said. “It’s an exciting industry to be a part of.”

A comparison of how many life science companies are on the Eastside and in other Washington cities. Photo illustration by Kailan Manandic

A comparison of how many life science companies are on the Eastside and in other Washington cities. Photo illustration by Kailan Manandic

More in Business

Selection and steady sales characterize local market

Buyers can enjoy additional selection this summer as they look for the home of their choice.

Choi joins staff at Kirkland Family Dentistry

Kirkland Family Dentistry has added a new dentist to the staff, Dr.… Continue reading

Courtesy photo
                                Locals celebrate Kirkland’s newest pot shop, The Evergreen Market, which opened April 25.
Evergreen Market opens fourth shop in Kirkland

The ribbon cutting ceremony was held on April 25.

Microsoft reveals project criteria for $500 million affordable housing funds

The company will soon accept applications for projects related to affordable housing on the Eastside.

Stephanie Quiroz/staff photos
                                Greater Kirkland Chamber of Commerce celebrates with owner Kimberly Johansen, the Empowered Pregnancy team, friends, and family on the grand opening of Empowered Pregnancy, PLLC on May 9.
Second out-of-hospital birth center comes to Kirkland

Community welcomed Empowered Pregnancy Birth Center and Women’s Wellness Clinic on May 9.

‘Busy’ housing market enters pre-summer phase

As the pre-summer market begins, standing out from the crowd is crucial for buyers.

The data visualized here was compiled from Apartment List’s monthly rent reports. See an interactive chart below. Kailan Manandic / data illustration
Eastside rental market could balance out with the region

Eastside rent medians increased by 2.8 in the past year, a decrease in growth from previous years.

Boeing probe reaches Kirkland local after deadly crashes

The criminal investigation into Boeing’s 737 MAX certification seeks information from a local expert.

Kirkland Urban, the nearly completed mixed-use development in downtown Kirkland, will host Shake Shack along with about a dozen other tenants. Kailan Manandic / staff photo
Shake Shack to open in Kirkland

The East Coast burger chain will open in Kirkland Urban, the nearly completed mixed-use development.

The Kirkland Urban development as seen from the top floor of one of the buildings during construction in 2016. The first building in the development opened later that year in October. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo
123,000-plus square feet of retail tenants committed to Kirkland Urban

The 12-acre development is off to a successful start.

The current Board of Directors for the Greater Kirkland chamber of Commerce. Photo courtesy of the the Greater Kirkland chamber of Commerce
Greater Kirkland Chamber of Commerce celebrates centennial

The 100-year celebration will take place during the chamber’s annual gala.