By Becky W. Evans
Standard-Times Staff Writer
A decade from now, SouthCoast could emerge as a leader in biotechnology, medical devices, marine science and technology, alternative energy and environmental science.
Matthew A. Morrissey, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council, said the emerging sectors could employ thousands with production jobs.
Already, the City of New Bedford is working with Fall River to establish a biotechnology testing facility, Mr. Morrissey said.
The facility would attract small biotechnology firms by providing a space “to accelerate the development of their drugs,” he said.
Paul Vigeant, assistant chancellor for economic development at UMass Dartmouth, said biotechnology “is the next great opportunity area for Massachusetts.
“New Bedford and Fall River can capture the growth of biotechnology once it’s out of research and development and into manufacturing,” he said.
While there are currently few biotechnology firms located in SouthCoast, Mr. Vigeant said there are about 35 to 40 manufactures of medical devices that employ a total of “a couple thousand” people.
The medical devices sector is a “hidden gem” of the local economy that “shows potential for growth,” he said.
Ideas for medical devices and other products are born in Boston’s teaching hospitals. Then, they travel south.
SouthCoast’s proximity to Boston and cheaper standard of living attracts manufacturers of medical devices and should continue to do so in the future, Mr. Vigeant said.
The marine science and technology sector is another blooming SouthCoast industry.
>From 2000 to 2005, the number of people employed in the sector in Southeastern Massachusetts nearly doubled from 523 to 1,018, said Dr. Clyde Barrow, director of the UMass Dartmouth Center for Policy Analysis.
“This is a very, very young industry,” Dr. Barrow said.
Coastal homeland security and oceanic research are the two markets driving industry growth, he said.
Companies choose SouthCoast for its seaside location and its position at the center of the region’s emerging marine technology corridor, which stretches from Fall River to Woods Hole, Dr. Barrow said.
The sector’s two largest SouthCoast employers are UMass Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology and Lockheed Martin Sippican, Inc., he said.
Most of the industry is composed of smaller companies that employ an average of 16 people, he said. Firms that specialize in engineering and consulting often employ just one or two people.
New Bedford’s Quest Center, an incubator for start-up marine technology firms, has attracted a handful of small companies, including one that specializes in scientific diving and another that designs launch and recovery systems for underwater robots.
BIRNS Aquamate, which sells underwater electrical connectors, recently outgrew its office at the Quest Center. The company moved into a larger space in New Bedford, where it will eventually manufacture the waterproof connectors.
David Sheehan, the center’s executive director, said BIRNS is a success story for the incubator, which aims to help companies grow and graduate to larger New Bedford offices.
In addition to marine science firms, the incubator is starting to attract companies that specialize in alternative energy and environmental science, Mr. Sheehan said.
Sustainable New Energy, which is housed in the Quest Center, is a developer of alternative energy solutions including wind, solar and thermal energy.
The center is also in negotiations with two environmental companies, Mr. Sheehan said. One company provides waste water treatment systems for residential and commercial customers. He described the other company as a “solution software group for environmental systems.”
If SouthCoast continues to act as a magnet for emerging science and technology industries, thousands of production jobs should follow within 10 years, Mr. Morrissey said.
“We’re gearing up for alternative energy, environment, marine science and technology, and biotechnology,” he said.
Contact Becky W. Evans at email@example.com
Publication date: April 01, 2007
By Becky W. Evans