Biotechnology now employs nearly 10,000 workers in Maine

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Sep. 22—Maine's biotechnology companies now employ nearly 10,000 workers in the state, a 42 percent increase over the last five years, according to a report by the industry.

The report released Thursday by BioME, the Bioscience Association of Maine, found there are now more than 9,500 jobs at 484 life science companies in the state. Maine's job growth in the industry is the fastest in New England over the last five years, the association said.

And the jobs pay very well, according to the report, with an average salary of $108,000. In all, the industry contributes $2.2 billion, or 3.5 percent, of the state's total gross domestic product of nearly $62 billion, the association said.

Much of the recent growth can be attributed to the demand for new products and equipment to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

"This new report confirms the robust response to the pandemic from Maine's life science companies," said Agnieszka Carpenter, executive director of the Bioscience Association of Maine.

While the uncertain path of the pandemic makes it hard to predict if that growth will continue, Carpenter said the report's findings create "a positive outlook for the industry moving forward."

BioME found that much of the recent job growth in the state was fueled by the creation and production of diagnostic tests and components in response to the pandemic, as well as the manufacturing of surgical appliances and supplies. The research-and-development efforts by bioscience companies in Maine also contributed to job growth, the report said.

The association last compiled a report on the state of the Maine industry in 2019 and found 7,433 life sciences jobs, average salaries of $95,000 and a $1.5 billion contribution to the state's gross domestic product. Association officials pointed out that growth in the industry was 14 percent over the five years prior to 2019, so the 42 percent growth over the last five years in the new report shows the impact of COVID-19 product development and manufacturing in Maine.

As an example, the report cited Maine Molecular Quality Controls of Saco, which designs and manufactures quality control products for medical labs around the world. In the past three years, the report said, the company has increased its workforce by more than 50 percent and recently completed an $18 million facility expansion, more than tripling its space.

A key factor, the company said, was its work early in the pandemic, helping to develop tests to detect the presence of the coronavirus.

Other Maine companies and organizations have made similar pivots. For example, two of Maine's largest bioscience organizations, Westbrook-based IDEXX Laboratories Inc. and Bar Harbor-based Jackson Laboratory, branched from their mainstay businesses into COVID testing services and supplies at the start of the pandemic.

Joan Gordon, president of Maine Molecular Quality Controls, said demand continues to be strong for COVID quality controls at her company and that it's also growing through development of tests for other infectious and inherited diseases, oncology testing and custom products for lab testing and equipment manufacturers around the world.

Despite the growth of life sciences in Maine, the industry remains small in comparison to traditional hubs like Massachusetts — even on a per capita basis. The Bay State has a population roughly five times that of Maine, but employed more than 107,000 people in biotech during 2020, according to a national trade group.

The report on Maine's industry was released at the BioME Annual Conference held Thursday afternoon at the University of Southern Maine.