Nodal Economic Development: Building Life Sciences Capabilities in Gateway Cities

This report is the product of 11.490 practicum Fall 2017, a policy problem-based practicum course in the led by Dr. Amy Glasmeier of DUSP and Teresa Lynch, founding principal of Mass Economics. It is the result of a five-month process of research conducted by a team of eight city planning graduate students.

This report was developed in collaboration with the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC) and MassDevelopment, two quasi-public entities mandated to invest in the life sciences cluster and to lead economic development efforts in the Commonwealth, respectively. The two organizations share goals of sustaining the competitiveness of Massachusetts’s world-class life sciences cluster while creating opportunities for all communities within the Commonwealth to contribute to and benefit from the cluster. The objectives of this study are threefold: 1) research local economic assets in Gateway Cities that could potentially connect to the life sciences cluster; 2) identify obstacles to realizing these connections; and 3) recommend policy strategies for the MLSC, MassDevelopment, and the Gateway Cities to overcome these obstacles. 

The report begins with an explanation of our case study approach and other methods employed. A primer on the life sciences follows, which includes discussion of its history and current industry trends, as well as a general introduction to cluster theory and the geography of industries. The subsequent section introduces the concept of Gateway Cities. Next, we present two case studies of Brockton and Worcester, which begin with a discussion of their respective histories, followed by analyses of the local economy and population, workforce, real estate, institutions, and existing life sciences activity. The report concludes with recommendations and strategies for their application in the two cities, as well as a typology to differentiate among Gateway Cities with regard to their life sciences activity and general economic development. 

Brockton is a post-industrial city with a population of 95,000 that comprises large immigrant communities. About 20 miles south of Downtown Boston, Brockton is well-served by commuter rail and highway access. Its jobs and recent job growth are dominated by healthcare, and it has no major traded industries serving markets beyond the region. While Brockton’s local workforce performance may lag behind the state, the city has easy access to a large and exceptionally well-educated regional labor force. Real estate is generally affordable, especially compared to the Boston/Cambridge market, and there are several parcels in the city prioritized for large-site redevelopment. In terms of existing life sciences, Brockton has a higher-than-average concentration of jobs in medical and testing laboratories, which tend to be routine and low-wage. The few life sciences companies that operate in the area are generally unaware of one another and do not feel well-connected to the regional cluster. 

Worcester is another post-industrial Gateway City in the Commonwealth, but with a much larger population (180,000). Located about an hour’s drive west of Boston, Worcester has a younger-than-average population, 21.5 percent of which is foreign-born. The city’s economy relies heavily on the “Eds and Meds,” driven by large educational institutions like the University 007 

of Massachusetts Medical School and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, as well as major life sciences companies like Abbvie. Compared to Brockton, Worcester is further along the spectrum of life sciences cluster participation. The city’s universities graduate hundreds of students in the life sciences each year, and collaborations between schools and industry have created highly successful life sciences companies. A capital-intensive downtown revitalization effort has been underway for the past two decades to attract new employers and residents. Finally, local and industry leaders have a specific vision for Worcester to center its growth in the cluster around biomanufacturing, and the Governor authorized the sale of 44 acres of state land to the local business development corporation in early 2017 to help advance this goal. 

Four common themes for strategies and policy recommendations emerged across the two case studies: 

1) Increased capacity and expertise in the life sciences 

2) Workforce and education for life sciences development 

3) Coordination 

4) Improved connectivity 

The implementation of these recommendations for the two cities will differ according to their contexts. Brockton will benefit from developing workforce training programs that specifically target life sciences occupations. Worcester already has an abundance of higher education opportunities in this cluster, and should instead focus on a comprehensive K-12 STEM strategic plan to expose local students to and prepare them for careers in life sciences fields. Leaders in both Brockton and Worcester should consider creating a coordination council for the life sciences to build local capacity and execute specific promotional strategies for the former, and to implement the long-term vision of a life sciences master plan for the latter. One recommendation we would like to highlight in particular that cuts across the two case study cities is the creation of a Gateway Cities Life Sciences Fellowship program. A common refrain we heard in both Brockton and Worcester was the desire for dedicated capacity to keep abreast of trends in the life sciences and sub-industry trends in real estate and infrastructure needs. A Fellow with deep expertise in both the life sciences and real estate development can raise the profile of Gateway Cities among industry leaders and direct catalytic investment to these communities. 

Finally, we urge caution before generalizing our findings and recommendations to other Gateway Cities in Massachusetts. The proposed four-part typology shows that compared to their peers, cities like Brockton and Worcester are strong candidates for policy interventions to improve their participation in the life sciences based on existing assets. While the typology can provide guidance for cities as they prioritize life sciences policy interventions, localized research and analysis is needed to address each city’s unique context and assets. 

We look forward to continued collaboration among the MLSC, MassDevelopment, MIT, and local leaders in Gateway Cities toward policy solutions that ensure the competitiveness of the life sciences cluster and inclusive economic development in all communities of the Commonwealth. 

Students: Tiffany Ferguson, Talia Fox, Adam Hasz, Laura Krull, Haijing Liu, Andy Stuntz, Joanne Wong, Zhekun Xiong