WASHINGTON _ A bipartisan team of New Jersey lawmakersheaded by state Sen. Robert Singer (R-30th District) introduced far-reaching legislation on Monday to woo biotechnology companies toNew Jersey and keep them happy there.The move by New Jersey legislators comes as states across the nationare competing keenly for those industries perceived to be the wave ofthe future. "Everyone wants industries with the potential to create high-paying jobs," Singer told BioWorld. "We want to project the image thatNew Jersey is biotech-friendly but we want to say it with more thanwords. We want to say it with action."The package of six bills introduced Monday includes changes to statelaw that will:y Modify the standard of fiduciary "prudence" for investments byprivate and public pension funds, such as New Jersey's $30 billionstate pension fund, allowing them to invest in biotechnology throughventure capital funds.y Loosen the profitability requirements for companies receivingfinancial assistance from the New Jersey Economic DevelopmentAuthority (EDA).y Prohibit regulation by counties, municipalities and local health boardsof the development of biotechnology and the use of materials andorganisms created with the tools of biotechnology.y Encourage state agencies, such as New Jersey's Departments ofHealth, Agriculture and Environmental Protection, to refrain fromregulating the biotechnology industry due to extensive federaloversight already in place.y Limit access of state agencies and certain municipal entities tobiotechnology trade secrets and related confidential information.y Establish a proactive state-run program to promote and attractbiotechnology and other "high technology" industries.Singer, who is chairman of the Joint Legislative Task Force onBiotechnology, predicted that most of the proposed legislation will passdue to New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman's preoccupation withjobs and economic growth. "We believe we have the support of thegovernor and the commissioner of commerce (Gaulberto Medina)," hesaid.However, Singer added that the bill which would allow the state'spension fund to invest in funds with biotechnology holdings will becontroversial due to the volatility of biotech stocks and the high risksinvolved in early stage investments. He said that the bill does notrequire fund managers to invest in biotechnology, but rather gives themthe option to do so.Singer says his state must foster biotechnology and other high-techindustries because it is losing manufacturing jobs. "We can't competein the middle to low-end manufacturing marketplace because our statehas a high cost of living and high utility costs," said Singer. He citedNew Jersey's loss of 2,000 manufacturing jobs when Mercedes BenzInc. relocated due to favorable terms offered the company by the stateof Alabama.Something Special To OfferBut Singer argued that New Jersey, with 95 private and publicbiotechnology companies, rivals California and Massachusetts as a hubof the biotech industry. He said that New Jersey holds a unique appealfor the industry: universities such as Rutgers and Princeton provide asolid research base, nearby New York offers easy access to financialmarkets, and the steady stream of professionals being laid off fromdownsizing pharmaceutical companies in the region provides a readypool of trained employees.The competition among states for biotechnology companies is clearlyheating up. "There is a powerful economic development argument forlegislation that favors biotechnology at the state level," BiotechnologyIndustry Organization (BIO) president Carl Feldbaum told BioWorld.Feldbaum said that states are increasingly courting biotechnologycompanies with aggressive legislative and financial propositions.Case in point: a mere week after New York City mayor RudolphGuiliani took office, Feldbaum said he was contacted by the city'sdeputy mayor for economic development asking for help in devising aplan to lure biotech companies to Manhattan, of all places. "That was asurprise," laughed Feldbaum. "But if that's what they want, we'regoing to help them."And Feldbaum said the executive of a mid-size biotech companyscouting out sites for a manufacturing facility in Maryland was greetedrecently at the airport by the state's secretary of commerce, spent threehours chatting with the mayor of the city where the plant might be builtand had dinner with the governor.Other states, such as North Carolina and Georgia, have also been vyingfor the hearts of biotech companies. The state of Rhode Island evenruns advertisements in magazines and newspapers featuringtestimonials from Worcester, Mass.-based Alpha-Beta Technology,which decided to build a manufacturing plant in the state. "Quitesimply, Rhode Island's innovative financing program makes it the beststate for a biotechnology company to expand and prosper," boast theads.But according to Singer, New Jersey won't go as far as Rhode Island.Singer said he invited Sumitomo Bank, which extended a $20 millionloan to Alpha-Beta to help finance the Smithfield, R.I. plant, to testifybefore the New Jersey legislature. The topic: how New Jersey couldcreatively attract biotech companies. According to Singer, the banksaid its loan was "100 percent guaranteed by the Port Authority ofRhode Island.""That's ludicrous in my mind," said Singer. "That's a company with noapproved product and no profitability and the state is guaranteeing a$20 million loan." Singer said his state's support of the fledglingindustry will be broad and deep, but that it will not provide recklesslydeep pockets for the industry to reach into. n
-- Lisa Piercey Washington Editor
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