For Alabama to become a player in the global life-science industry, Bob Hess said the key is to know what bioscience and biotechnology companies are looking for and what will drive them to the state.
“These are exciting times,” said Hess, vice chairman of Global Corporate Services at Newmark Knight Frank. “Life science is about saving lives, hopefully the lives of people you know, love and care for. Some of these life-science companies are emerging with new technologies and therapies, and Alabama can position itself to get in front of them.”
Hess shared his strategies for drawing life-science companies to the state with economic developers and business leaders during last week’s 2020 BIO Alabama virtual conference. He was among several notable keynote speakers, including U.S. Sen. Doug Jones and former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin. The event, “Connecting the Alabama Bioscience Community,” highlighted economic development, cutting-edge research and capital access.
Hess is a preeminent leader in the corporate location strategy and site selection space. He has more than 30 years of experience in the area of management consulting services, with a focus on defining, structuring and managing highly confidential special projects and business transformation events for all commercial real estate asset types.
Hess said the secret to attracting life-science companies is to “know your client.”
“Life science covers a huge spectrum of things – everything from biostatic devices to agriculture to food,” he said. “You have to know where Alabama fits and how do you compete with the legacy players. You have to be sure you can answer the questions in terms of what life-science leaders will want to know.”
Hess said companies will look at the entire landscape of the state when selecting a site. The drivers that influence them include the availability of existing buildings, utility services, infrastructure, a ready pool of talent at colleges, universities and research centers, health care, cold storage facilities and airport access. If Alabama doesn’t fill the bill, a company will switch its focus to another location, he said.
It’s also important, Hess said, to think beyond Alabama’s boundaries and consider what types of industries are developing throughout the Southeast.
“Know thyself – what do you have, where can you compete and what would be the fatal flaw that may cause companies to look at another state? What’s your badge in Alabama? What’s the hook that will bring them to your state?”
Hess said a “robust pipeline of talent” at nearby colleges, universities and medical facilities can act as a magnet, drawing bioscience and biotechnology companies to the state.
Another important factor, he said, is the availability of existing facilities that can quickly become operational. Speed is key. After companies have selected a location, they want existing buildings, which would allow them to get their business up and running in six to eight months.
“When this industry does something, they are very scientific about their options,” he said. “They have to have space and be in a location where they can scale fast if treatments are successful.”
Hess said Alabama should consider how it can attract the new and developing industries related to COVID-19.
“There are a lot of caring people doing things at warp speed,” said Hess, adding that he suffered from COVID-19 last December and January – before anyone knew the disease existed. “Is this a window of opportunity for Alabama? Can you play a role in vaccine distribution or manufacturing?”
Hess said access to technology, innovation, automation and digitation are also factors that interest life-science companies and can influence them to choose Alabama.
Hess challenged economic developers to do their research and talk with peer cities before recruiting these companies.
“It’s a crowded, competitive space,” he said. “If life-science companies are going to be in Alabama, you will have to have public-private partnerships like you’ve never had before. They must be very deep, meaningful and sustained, and your institutions have to promote that.”
Hess said although competition is fierce, Alabama has a lot to offer.
“The life-science industry is so big,” he said. “All these tremendous platforms in life sciences are looking for new homes, new talent, new attitudes, and that’s what you have in Alabama. You have a can-do attitude.”