South Florida remains well behind the pack when it comes to building a biotechnology-research industry, a celebrated target for new high-paying jobs.
In Miami-Dade, “research and development in biotechnology” makes up such a tiny portion of the workforce that it trails the national average by 90 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That follows a trend of South Florida’s research industry generally not matching the strength seen elsewhere in the country. In Broward and Miami-Dade, the broader scientific research category trails the national average by about 85 percent.
That category covers well-paying research jobs in DNA, cloning, proteins and chemistry that metropolitan areas across the country are trying to lure their way. The average biotech researcher makes $115,00 a year, according to federal statistics.
The research category only covers private-sector scienitists, and not researchers in colleges and universities. And there are other categories loosely grouped under the “life sciences” label that look promising for the region, and which bring in salaries well above the average South Florida wage of $46,000 a year.
Broward’s medical-lab industry is about 160 percent larger than the national average, and the typical worker in that sector makes $56,000 a year. In Miami-Dade, companies that make surgical instruments make up an industry that’s 60 percent larger than the national average. The typical worker in that industry makes $73,000 a year.
But the region’s tiny footprint in the industries that carry the formal “biotechnology” name shows the uphill climb ahead as that sector attracts more attention from leaders.
“We never said it would be easy,’’ Jaap Donath, research director for Miami-Dade’s Beacon Council, said of building a bio-tech industry. “But we think we have the will to do this.”
The “life sciences” industry — an umbrella term that generally refers to healthcare, medical research and related fields — looms large in both Broward and Miami-Dade’s blueprints for economic growth. The Broward Alliance and the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade’s economic-development agency, both cite life sciences as a target industry for relocation subsidies and other help in attracting new firms to the region.
In Miami-Dade, the first building in what’s planned as a biotech office park has increased hope that Miami’s large hospital cluster and ties to foreign economies will make the city a hub for the lucrative research industry. The University of Miami Life Science and Technology Park still has two floors to fill in its first building, but the interest from budding foreign firms has backers convinced that the momentum will build in the coming years.
“We see the potential from what’s there, and what’s coming,’’ said Joseph Reagan Jr., vice president of Wexford Science and Technology, a Baltimore firm that built the first Life Science park building under a development deal with UM. “Boston may reach to northern Europe and the West Coast to the Pacific Rim. But nobody else [but Miami] has the connection to Central and South America —and to Europe as a whole.”
Wexford is negotiating to build and manage the second of five buildings planned for the university-owned site near the Jackson hospital complex, which includes UM’s own hospital. The second building is slated to be a hotel and conference center aimed at visiting doctors and Latin Americans traveling to Miami for medical care.