The Biohealth Capital Region–DC, Maryland and Virginia – plans to be a top 3 biohealth hub in the US by 2023. What will it take to get there?

The Biohealth Capital Region is already a top 5 location as ranked by NIH and venture capital funding, patents, lab space, and jobs. The 1,100 participants at this week’s 2018 Biohealth Capital Region Forum agreed on the area’s strengths: a highly educated and diverse workforce, leading universities and research institutions, strong healthcare organizations, hundreds of companies, and broad-based policy commitment to the biohealth industry.

Still, moving into the top echelons will not be easy. Critical steps include:

Collaborating regionally on broad issues like transportation and talent/skills, but also on biohealth-specific areas such as improving university-industry cooperation and providing support for entrepreneurs. Creating economic development tools that cross boundaries would make it easier for businesses to access the wealth of resources and assistance the region offers.

Expanding – not excluding – talent. Speakers covered the waterfront when addressing talent: keeping university graduates in the region, expanding and diversifying the pipeline of students entering universities, helping companies and job seekers connect, and, crucially, continuing to attract global talent – both scientists and students – in the face of a discouraging policy environment.

“It is critical for universities to act both as producers of [science, technology, engineering and math] talent and as magnets for top STEM faculty and researchers from around the world. That is our biggest role in the ecosystem,” [GMU President Angel] Cabrera said. “When we mess with immigration policy, our whole system of science and innovation is at stake.”

University presidents Loh, Perman on impact of immigration changes to STEM workforce, Washington Business Journal

Telling the story about the region’s rich ecosystem. The BHCR Forum partly served this purpose, bringing together business, university, and community leaders from DC, Maryland and Virginia. The Forum also provided an opportunity to highlight underappreciated business successes that might garner more attention in other locations, such as the number of successful exits, stories of the region’s serial entrepreneurs, and the amount of capital raised or funding accessed.

Another takeaway is that a huge menu of economic development programs plays an important supporting role by expanding access to capital, supporting industry networks, helping to address cross-jurisdictional issues like transportation and talent development, and facilitating workforce development, recruitment and training efforts. Incentives, in turn, play a meaningful but not leading role.

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