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San Diego Life Sciences Are So Hot That Space Is Hard To Find

Life sciences and healthcare are growth industries in San Diego, with talent, investor interest and climate on their side. The San Diego market might not ever be as prominent as the Bay Area in life sciences, but it has a shot at upstaging LA and other markets.

Avison Young principal and Managing Director Jerry Keeney, who moderated, and California Life Sciences Association Senior Director, Operations Elizabeth Hewitt Gibson

Bisnow's San Diego Life Sciences & Healthcare event started with some optimistic statistics for the future of the industry, offered by Avison Young principal Jerry Keeney, who kicked off Tuesday's event.

For example: only 5% of human diseases currently have therapies, so there is a lot of room for growth in life sciences and healthcare in San Diego and elsewhere.

Since the beginning of 2017, about $1.6B in new life science venture capital has been invested in San Diego companies, and there is more coming every day.

Healthcare and life science talent is in San Diego, so companies are coming here. But the market for small life science space is tight — about 1% vacancy, so it can be hard for startups to find the space they need. Biomed and Alexandria have projects underway that will help that situation.

How can life science space accommodate its talent? No matter how powerful its corporate mission, a company needs to create an environment that attracts and retains talent, the life science speakers said, or they risk losing employees to competitors.

The workplace needs to inspire connectivity. And not just the office space, but also the R&D space, which is a special requirement of life sciences. The R&D space can't feel separated. 

Lab people used to work in the back or in the basement, and maybe they didn't see the office workers or the support staff that much. That doesn't work any more, the speakers said. Integrating all of a life science company's functions is key.

There are a number of ways to make a facility more integrated, such as by providing communal working spaces, even outdoor areas where people can be together. Also, huddle and break rooms need to more enticing. All a company's groups need to feel like they are part of the same organization, working on the same goals. Well-designed space can foster that.

Illumina Global Facilities Planning and Innovative Workplace Leader Jenny Durbin, DPR Construction Life Sciences Core Market Leader Scott Storm and HED Science & Technology Practice Leader Enrique Ceniceros

Dynamic environments are also important — lab space needs to be able to change according to its needs. Mobile benching is important, though a chem lab or engineering space can't be changed overnight or over a weekend simply by moving benches around. The space is simply too complex for that, the speakers said.

A combination of fixed and mobile benches is probably the most useful array in lab space. Space needs to be adaptable, so that equipment can be brought in as needed.

The life science panelists also stressed that in today's industry, tenants want amenities, such as food on-site, conference rooms and fitness space with programs that help people stay engaged. All of these are very much in demand.

Even on-site libraries are making a comeback, as researchers have discovered that they are effective as collaboration space.

Each facility is different, depending on its use, so it is hard to generalize about construction costs, though they are going up (like for every other kind of space). But so far not ruinously, the speakers said. 

Life science space is expensive to begin with, especially because air flow needs to be precisely controlled. San Diego is actually the perfect climate for providing air to life science facilities, because you don't have to spend that much humidifying or dehumidifying it, the speakers said. Facilities in Phoenix and Florida can cost more to operate because of their climates.

Rendina Healthcare Real Estate Senior Vice President of Development and Leasing Neil Carolan, who moderated, UC San Diego Health System Chief of Staff Matthew Jenusaitis and Pacific Medical Buildings partner and Senior Vice President Jake Rohe

The Future of Healthcare speakers said consumer-driven managed care is how healthcare is going, since fee-for-service isn't sustainable. Medicare and private healthcare insurance are moving that way. 

Now consumers are becoming a key part of the healthcare equation, the speakers said. With managed care, the patient is taking a strong role along with the care team, such as case managers and social workers and others. The healthier consumers are, the better for the industry. 

That trend is going to have an impact on healthcare real estate. As recently as 10 years ago, healthcare real estate was more isolated.

Now healthcare has become more integrated across sectors because of policy and social changes. In the future, the various parts of the healthcare system will speak to each other more, with a full flow of information. 

Also, there will be more retail healthcare, which will drive demand for medical office space. The demand for ambulatory space is on the rise, along with home health and telemedicine. 

For hospitals, the trends promise to be game changers, the speakers said. Current hospital revenue streams might be on average 60% inpatient, 40% outpatient. Soon that might be 90% outpatient, 10% inpatient. There will be fewer people in hospitals and they will spend less time there.

Sharp HealthCare Vice President, Facilities Management and Development Gregg Zoll and Swinerton Project Executive Jon Windholz

Capital is available for healthcare development, with information technology a major component of new projects, the healthcare speakers said. Capital needs to be used judiciously, and a lot of it is going to go to develop outpatient facilities and clinics.

Hospital systems need to be out in the community, investing in space and with a presence, since that is ultimately where new patients are going to come into the system. 

Baby boomers aren't flooding hospitals just yet, the speakers said, because 65 is a healthier age than it used to be. That is something of a surprise, because it had been predicted that the demographic would be entering the healthcare system in a more intense way by now.

As it happens, the baby boomers will come later — and probably with more complicated problems when they do. Healthcare systems need to be ready, and they need the right kinds of inpatient and especially outpatient facilities to deal with the coming wave.

Providing behavioral healthcare is a tough problem: it is a huge money loser, and highly regulated, the speakers said. How can the systems help the most people with the resources they have? San Diego County might ultimately have to step in to provide more resources to meet behavioral health needs.