Boston is the world’s top biotech cluster – but it didn’t happen by chance. It was carefully planned, meticulously executed – and built on a brand platform for Massachusetts that KHJ created with MassDevelopment: “It’s all here.”
15 years after launching “It’s all here” at BIO2003, the Boston Business Journal took a look back with KHJ Brand Activation CEO Judy Habib and the state’s former economic development secretary, Ranch Kimball. Read the full BBJ interview below:
Fifteen years later: A reflection on the Mass. biotech sector
By Max Stendahl – Digital Editor, Boston Business Journal
Today, Massachusetts is known as the center of the biotech universe. But 15 years ago, other states were nipping at the heels of the commonwealth, making aggressive marketing pitches to lure major life sciences employers.
Facing the prospect of missing out on new research and development and biomanufacturing jobs, MassDevelopment brought in Judy Habib’s marketing firm in 2003 to develop a biotech-retention initiative. The coordinated outreach program — which resulted in the slogan “Massachusetts: It’s All Here” — sought to persuade companies to expand within Massachusetts, playing up the region’s skilled workforce, proximity to major research institutions and easy access to funding. The campaign also helped to lay the groundwork for Gov. Deval Patrick’s $1 billion life sciences economic development initiative in 2008.
As Boston prepares to host the BIO convention, the Business Journal sat down with Habib and with Ranch Kimball, who served as the state’s economic development secretary under Gov. Mitt Romney, who reflect on that pivotal moment 15 years ago — and how the Bay State can stay ahead of the pack today. What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation.
RK: It wasn’t some grand policy idea, like the Kimball-Romney bio initiative. It was a relentless service thing. When “It’s” all here, don’t make more of “it” — make it easier to get what’s already here.
JH: For us, 15 years, ago, we had just come out of the whole high-tech thing. I remember it used to be this actual duality between Silicon Valley and (Route) 128. There was a time when we were even, and then there was a time when we were not. And we lost it, right out from under us. So when this biotech wave was coming through, it was like, ‘Let’s not let this happen again.’ … How can you have these (states) that don’t have nearly the assets that we have, but they’re at least presenting themselves in a way that they’ve got it? We’re the ones who actually have it, but we’re not saying it. We were brought in by MassDevelopment. The big, winning headline was ‘Keep your R&D close, and your manufacturing closer.’
BBJ: Was there anything that biotech industries in other states were doing well, and that Massachusetts tried to emulate? Because now it seems that everybody is trying to copy what Massachusetts is doing.
RK: Yes, they’re trying to copy us. They always have been. But there’s nothing we copied, because, with all due respect, I think we saw what the answer was. We didn’t need to create anything. We just needed to make a relentlessly effective system to organize it for the people who wanted to be here. I had all the raw parts on the floor, but no one had ever assembled them.
JH: What other states did that we were not doing at the time was, making it easy. North Carolina had infrastructure and certified sites ready to go. What Ranch did after 2003 was the hard work of creating what has now become an embedded modus operandi, and a model for the country and the world.
BBJ: How are we doing now? It’s 2018, and BIO is back. You created a team of people to work with out-of-state companies known as the “business resource team” that no longer exists as it did then. Have we learned the lessons of the past, or are we starting to creep back toward arrogance?
RK: I don’t know. But I do know that there’s nothing remotely like the integrative relentlessness of the (business) resource team anywhere around.
JH: What would have us slip is to get complacent in our success. The biggest challenge is workforce. What are we doing with our education system and affordability in housing? Also, the innovation is going to be generated in a decentralized way. The ticket to success is to see it, work it, get it and then keep it. That is the sort of arc that we’ve seen over this 15-year period.
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