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Patrick: ‘Multiplier effect’ the key to life sciences jobs goal

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Gov. Deval Patrick last Friday explained some of the math behind his projection that his $1 billion life sciences initiative will generate 250,000 new jobs over a decade — a forecast that some economists say appears overly optimistic.

Patrick told an industry forum that studies have shown that for each new job created in industries such as biotechnology and medical devices, three to five jobs are created in related fields, such as life sciences equipment suppliers and sales workers.

With state lawmakers expected to act on his nine-month-old proposal this month, Patrick also warned that inaction could allow other states to steal jobs from Massachusetts’ much-envied cluster of biotech firms, drug makers and medical device companies, and the academic programs that support them.

“The inverse is true: for every life sciences job we lose, it costs us between three and five jobs in related fields,” Patrick told hundreds of industry officials at the Life Sciences Talent Summit at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. “The cost of inaction is too high.”

Patrick said a study by the Milken Institute, a California-based economic think tank, found 3.6 jobs indirectly created in support of each life sciences worker.

The Democrat said another study, by Northeastern University, found an even greater impact from life sciences jobs — five created for each job directly in the industry.

Alan Clayton-Matthews, a University of Massachusetts professor who tracks the state’s economy for the New England Economic Partnership, said he was dubious of Patrick’s projection that 250,000 jobs will be created if lawmakers adopt his proposal without substantial changes.

“It’s hard to see how that it in fact could be that large,” Clayton-Matthews, who was unfamiliar with specifics of Patrick’s estimate, said in response to a reporter’s call. “It sure does sound like either an unrealistically high estimate, or assumes a lot.”

Patrick’s proposal would create a bank of stem-cell lines for public and private research, establish research grants for scientists and upgrade public college facilities for public and private use. It also would extend tax incentives to promote development of life sciences companies.

Patrick made the initiative a centerpiece of his legislative agenda when he announced it last May at a biotech conference in Boston.

Months later, he expressed frustration at the legislature’s lack of speedy action. In November, Patrick and legislative leaders agreed on a timeline that included expedited hearings, followed by legislative action by mid-February.

Patrick said last Friday the proposal was still “on track” with that schedule.

The state’s life sciences industry, with hubs in Cambridge and in Boston’s suburbs along Route 128, could experience a downturn similar to the exodus of computer industry jobs that Massachusetts suffered in the 1980s and 1990s after California’s Silicon Valley became the clear leader, Patrick warned.

“I refuse to let that happen, and so should you,” Patrick told the audience, to loud applause.

At the industry gathering, UMass’ Donahue Institute released preliminary findings from a study that found shortages of qualified workers in certain life sciences jobs.

The study found a 12 percent vacancy rate among medical scientists — the highest rate among more a dozen life sciences job categories studied — compared with a 3 percent vacancy rate for all occupations statewide. The next-highest vacancy figure was among biochemists and biophysicists, with a 10.3 percent rate, followed by chemists at 7.8 percent.

(Associated Press)