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Editorial: Nebraska bioscience sector has big opportunities for statewide growth
Benefits are statewide

Editorial: Nebraska bioscience sector has big opportunities for statewide growth

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The BD plant in Holdrege, shown in 2016. BD also has plants in Columbus and Broken Bow. Nebraska’s biomedical sector provides significant economic development opportunities.

Holdrege, Neb., is home to the BD syringe-manufacturing plant, which recently completed a $70 million expansion. The federal government provided $42 million toward the project in order to boost U.S. capacity to deal with COVID protection. The BD expansion points to a positive economic development consideration for Nebraska: Our state, for its size, has an especially strong bioscience sector that offers important growth opportunities for Nebraska communities.

Studies over the years have consistently noted that Nebraska has significant economic development prospects by building on its bioscience sector. Nebraska communities as well as economic development officials, elected leaders and university figures must understand these opportunities and seize them when they arise.

These central findings from studies by the Nebraska Legislature, the California-based Stanford Research Institute and the Ohio-based Batelle group explain the significance of its biomedical sector:

Specific strengths. Nebraska stands out nationally for its strong specializations in agricultural feedstock and chemicals; specialized transportation of bioscience materials; and manufacture of medical devices and equipment. The University of Nebraska Medical Center has top-rank strengths in areas such as robotic and computer-assisted surgery, drug delivery, biochemical defense and telemedicine. The University of Nebraska at Omaha, one report said, is “home to world-class research in biomechanics” and is a leader in biomedical data-crunching.

Statewide opportunity. In some states, the biomedical sector is concentrated in only a few cities. Nebraska, in contrast, stands out for the way its biomedical facilities are found not only in Omaha and Lincoln but also in many smaller communities across the state. BD, a major manufacturer of medical devices, has plants in Holdrege, Columbus and Broken Bow, for example. One study found that 43% of the state’s bioscience jobs were in central and western Nebraska, with 32% in Omaha and 25% in Lincoln. Boosting growth in this sector can further spread opportunity across the state.

Job growth, high wages. Nebraska’s biomedical sector increases employment at a faster rate than the state’s economy as a whole and offers wages above the state average. The Batelle study in 2015 reported that the average bioscience wage in Nebraska was $58,300 compared with a statewide private-sector average of $38,600. Increasing Nebraska’s number of higher-paying jobs, such as these, is a state priority.

Robust research funding. On a per-capita basis, funding for biomedical research in Nebraska exceeds the national average.

A variety of Nebraska institutions have taken steps over the years to build on these advantages. Bioscience firms in the state have joined together through the industry group BioNebraska. UNMC and UNO have a joint initiative, UNeTech, to commercialize their biomedical research.

A study this year of Nebraska’s venture capital sector by Colorado-based Innosphere Ventures noted UNMC’s “potential to generate new venture technologies throughout the next few years” and Nebraska’s “becoming a key player in medical technology innovations.” UNMC currently has more than 800 research projects. If Omaha becomes home to the massive NExt project to strengthen the nation’s disaster response capability, Nebraska’s bioscience sector will take a landmark step forward.

Bioscience provides well-paying jobs in Nebraska and distributes them across the state. Let’s make the most of these important statewide opportunities.

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