South Dakota biotechnology industry poised for rapid growth

Farm Forum

We often talk about the need to grow skilled workers and target industries in South Dakota, but here are some actual – and very exciting – results.

As president of the South Dakota Biotech Association I had the opportunity, along with Governor Daugaard, to attend the International Biotechnology Conference in June.

During the three-day event, BIO released a new report: “The Value of Bioscience Innovation in Growing Jobs and Improving Quality of Life”. The findings are certainly encouraging:

• South Dakota had 420 biotechnology businesses employing 5,800 people in 2014 – the most current year available.

• Employment in the biotech industry increased by 12 percent between 2012 and 2014.

• The average annual wage in the biotech industry was $61,141.

South Dakota did our own industry update in April and found an 11 percent employment increase in the biotechnology sector between 2011 and 2016. It projected employment to continue to grow at a 10.8 percent rate through 2020.

That report found the biotechnology and information technology sectors to be the fastest growing sectors in terms of employment and it projects those sectors to continue to lead employment growth in South Dakota. South Dakota’s employment growth in these sectors exceeds the national rates.

The growth of the biotechnology sector has been driven by growth of existing South Dakota biotechnology businesses including Poet, Avera, Sanford, Rapid City Regional health, Rural Technologies and many others. It was also driven by start-up biotechnology companies, such as SAB Biotherapuetics, Immutrix, Alumend, Prairie Aquatech, Medgene, and others. Several early stage biotechnology companies, such as Synzyme, Chronix and Inanovate located in South Dakota to take advantage of the business climate and the biotechnology R&D infrastructure that has been developed in South Dakota.

As Governor Daugaard shared at the international BIO conference, the development and attraction of many of these biotechnology companies has been the result of state, community and private investments into the research and development infrastructure these businesses need.

That means infrastructure like the Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) pilot facility developed at the University of South Dakota’s GEAR Center in the Sioux Falls Discovery District, but it also includes the human capital. We are attracting, and must continue to appeal to, researchers, students and technicians making the discoveries, moving them through the federal regulatory process, and ultimately producing the product.

Many of these early stage businesses, SAB Biotherapuetics, Alumend, Immutrix, and Chronix, have their first products in clinical trials that will hopefully lead to FDA approval. They can then begin manufacturing and marketing of these innovative products, requiring a workforce with the necessary skills to work in these cGMP facilities. These, and other biotech companies looking to locate cGMP operations in South Dakota, project the need for hundreds of employees.

In an effort to meet this rapidly growing demand for skilled biotech workers, the South Dakota Board of Regents has approved certificates in laboratory science and regulatory affairs, and has authorized USD to plan an Associates of Science in Integrated Science degree and to enable students to get the knowledge needed to work in a cGMP environment. The current National Science Foundation EPSCoR grant, in conjunction with the South Dakota Department of Education, supports K-12 initiatives, course development, and other activities to prepare and encourage students to pursue degrees that will prepare them for a career in the biotechnology field.

It is critical that South Dakotans use the educational programs in place to secure the knowledge and skills needed to meet the work force needs of the biotechnology industry. These are quality, high paying career opportunities here in South Dakota. Please explore and encourage your children, and grandchildren, to explore and pursue the exciting biotechnology career opportunities that are, and will be, available in South Dakota.

Steve Statz is president of the South Dakota Biotechnology Association and a member of the South Dakota EPSCoR REACH Committee.