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Roe Reversal Seen As Roadblock To Life Sciences Growth In Red States

The biotech and life sciences industries, which often struggle to find appropriate talent for their open positions, now face questions about how the Supreme Court's Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision revoking the federal right to an abortion will impact talent pools.

“The life science industry itself really makes a lot of site selection decisions on workforce,” said Patricia Larrabee, founder and president of Facility Logix, a Maryland-based consulting firm that helps clients navigate the life sciences real estate industry. “And if literally half of the workforce is disinclined to be in a state where they have limited rights, it will have an impact.”

Larrabee believes that the states and cities on the wrong side of the expanding wave of abortion restrictions will pay a price when it comes to growing their biotech and life sciences markets, eventually dampening development demand for new labs.


Any workforce impact of changing laws and restrictions will likely be felt especially hard in up-and-coming markets in red states. A recent report by CBRE underscored just how difficult it is to find scientific talent: Despite growth in graduates and funding, the sector had 0.6% unemployment in April 2022.

A significant number of the report’s top 25 markets for industry talent reside in states that have or are expected to soon have strict abortion laws: Nashville (23), Miami (22), Atlanta (14), and three Texas cities, Houston (13), Dallas (16) and Austin (18).  

The report also suggested that some up-and-coming markets had been growing faster than average. Nashville, Dallas/Fort Worth, Salt Lake City, Atlanta and Miami have all seen the number of researchers grow by 50% or more between 2015 and 2020. CBRE declined to comment for this story. 

Larrabee spoke about some of these up-and-coming cities, like Austin or Nashville, as the proverbial blue island in a red sea, referring to the city-level liberal political bent in a conservative state. She believes women will think twice about pursuing jobs in those blue islands, given the wave of abortion rights rollbacks in red states.

She focused especially on North Carolina and Research Triangle Park, which has “knocked it out of the park” in terms of the growth of the life sciences industry and biomanufacturing, as well as its robust job-training efforts. Larrabee feels they’re one of the gold standards when it comes to developing a biotech workforce.

Now, with a Republican-controlled legislature signaling its intent to roll back abortion rights, there’s a question of what will happen next in terms of company locations and site selection. One of the state’s previous bouts with politically charged legislation, the so-called Bathroom Bill, led to widespread corporate dissatisfaction and eventually a repeal. 

“​​Does a Denver or Chicago or another municipality in a blue state have a better chance?” she said. “I think the answer is going to be yes.”

Patricia Larrabee, head of Facility Logix

Bisnow reached out to a number of biotech industry groups in states where, due to trigger laws or the aggressive anti-abortion stances of state legislators, the impact of Dobbs will be felt immediately or in the near future.

The Texas Healthcare and Bioscience Institute said, via a spokesperson, that “we do not have a statement at this time,” and both the North Carolina Biotechnology Center and North Carolina Biosciences Organization had no comment. 

Attracting talent, especially in a booming industry with a longstanding shortage of skilled workers, has been a key factor in many aspects of corporate strategy and real estate development for life sciences tenants.

Developers and companies trying to use their real estate to attract better job candidates have focused on amenities and pushed to locate near urban areas that industry recruits tend to prefer. 

That scientific talent also plays a role in the real estate industry, and life sciences developers and brokers have increasingly looked to hire workers with a scientific background to better understand the intricacies of lab development. 

And a near-majority of that talent is female. Studies analyzing gender representation and achievement in biotech suggest there’s significant unmet potential due to a lack of career support and advancement for women, and that anything limiting access to female talent would be limiting to a firm’s growth potential. 

One MIT study found that women aren’t given enough opportunity to lead startups, and they’re grossly underrepresented at the executive level in biotech firms; women have attained near-parity in terms of industry employment, with 49% of jobs, but according to a report from the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, they make up just 31% of executive teams and 23% of CEOs. 

Larrabee believes anti-abortion laws will lead to stark career choices within the biotech and life sciences world, especially for women. Where do I go to school? Where do I go for my first job? Where does my startup or firm locate? “Women will make different decisions on where they and their families locate because of this decision,” she said. 

A group of more than 100 female biotech CEOs and leaders who also felt angered and outraged by the decision signed an open letter posted on July 1 that expressed their ”profound dismay and disappointment” at the overturning of Roe.

Many signatories spoke to Endpoints News about the desire for the letter to be the starting point for future action. None are outlined in the letter, but the signatories do “denounce this decision” and state they will “not stand by silently.”

Others in the industry believe time will tell. Brian Darmody, chief strategy officer of the Association of University Research Parks, told Bisnow that it’s a little early to speculate about the impact of the decision, especially concerning life sciences development. 

Regardless, corporations have been pushed to respond immediately, with many employees and advocates with liberal and progressive viewpoints pushing for a response, including providing funding for abortion services as part of a firm’s healthcare plan, a step many pharma companies have taken. Others have taken a firm stance against political funding of abortion opponents and are even reconsidering the location of events, conferences and ultimately corporate offices. 

RA Capital Managing Partner Peter Kolchinsky, a significant investor in and board member of different biotech firms, told Endpoints that biotech firms should be cognizant of where they locate, and that “it’s prudent for companies to take a state’s position on women’s reproductive rights into account when deciding where to expand into.”

Larrabee’s suggestion that states would face consequences suggests the effects will roll out over time, that talent will make individual choices that will gradually add up to some kind of net impact, as opposed to an immediate stop to growth in certain markets. But any signal that talent may be looking elsewhere may cut off the momentum that’s bringing more development to nascent biotech markets.  

“If you can’t compete on workforce on a level playing field with other places, then you’ll be a less-than,” Larrabee said.