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Study shows bioscience field creates $7.2 billion in W.Va.

Feb. 14, 2008 @ 07:45 AM

MORGANTOWN -- Perhaps the next round of business lobbying ads in West Virginia should show a guy in a lab coat.

Though by no means eclipsing the state's coal industry, the biomedical field is a new force in the Mountain State's economy, a study released Wednesday by West Virginia University says. It was responsible for nearly 22,000 jobs and a business volume of about $7.2 billion in 2006.

Ongoing research at Marshall University and WVU in the field generated an additional $200 million in 2007.

The study was released during a press conference in Morgantown involving WVU President Mike Garrison, Marshall President Stephen Kopp and Billy Tauzin, chief executive officer of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. Also present was the study's co-author, Tom Witt, a WVU economist.

"It was a very impressive report," Kopp said. "It was very illuminating in terms of the impact economically this has on the state."

The industry has been an emerging field at Marshall, where faculty at the new Robert C. Byrd Biotechnology Science Center have been working on everything from breast cancer research to nanotechnology.

"WVU and Marshall are major players in this, and perhaps this is a hidden jewel here in the state," Kopp said. "This is an area where I think the state shines."

Bioscience jobs are growing in West Virginia, and are primarily concentrated in Monongalia, Kanawha and Cabell counties, according to the report. The study also states the average salary of a worker employed in bioscience is more than $55,000, well above the state average salary of $37,000.

"These are high-paying jobs," Kopp said.

According to the study, there were 400 jobs in the bioscience field in Cabell County in 2001. That has tripled since, growing to 1,200.

"Health science is growing by leaps and bounds," Kopp said.

However, more effort to grow the industry in the state is needed, according to the report, which ranked West Virginia 41st out of the 50 states in an aggregate of research funding, financial capital, educated work force and an innovative pipeline.

Kopp said that ranking pointed to the importance of Gov. Joe Manchin's "Bucks for Jobs" initiative, part of which is pending in the Legislature. The bill in question would create a $50 million endowment for research at WVU and Marshall, if the schools can match the funds. Under the plan, WVU would get $35 million and $15 million would go to Marshall.

Kopp's plan for Marshall's share of the endowment would be to establish a research-based institute where professors could develop patents on scientific breakthroughs.

"Every legislator ought to realize the significance of (Manchin's plan) for the future of West Virginia and the people of West Virginia," he said.

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