Published February 20. 2013 4:00PM Updated February 21. 2013 12:08AM
Hartford — Four state legislators, including state Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, on Wednesday announced a new, bipartisan life sciences caucus of the legislature that aims to promote innovation and economic growth.
Life sciences — including biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, biomedical technologies and devices and life systems technologies — "represent billions of dollars in revenues to the state and an important employment sector for our state and, frankly, it is the future in many respects for our state," Maynard said.
Maynard, Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, and Rep. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, will share chairmanship of the committee. Industry leaders and stakeholders will be invited to meet with caucus members to discuss their needs and create a vision for the industry, Maynard said. The caucus expects to draw more companies to the state by providing a central place for businesses to learn about which life sciences industries and resources already exist in Connecticut, Hwang said.
"We have the innovators. We have the leaders. It is our job to let the world know that we have them," Hwang said.
Maynard said the state already has demonstrated its interest in the industry by investing in the John Dempsey Hospital and The Jackson Laboratory in Farmington. State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, said another example of the state's commitment can be found in the establishment of research and development tax credits for the life sciences.
The state has more than 10,000 jobs in the bio-pharmaceutical industry, and the industry supports more than 41,000 jobs indirectly, Maynard said. The caucus is talking about supporting industries beyond bio-pharmaceutical, he said. The state gets $43.5 million in direct taxes from those jobs, he said.
As Pfizer Inc. has changed its approach to discovery or research, Maynard said, the region has lost jobs. But some former Connecticut Pfizer employees are returning to the state while others who have decided to leave Pfizer are deciding to stick around and start new businesses, he said.
Larry Altstiel of Stonington said he will be retiring from his position as a vice president and head of neuroscience clinical research at Pfizer on Monday. But, he said, he wants to stay in Connecticut because of the quality of life, proximity to great research initiatives and affordability.
He is in the process of starting a new business named Provectra, which will focus on gene therapy for neurodegenerative diseases, he said.
"It's much more family friendly; it certainly would be more attractive to the senior people in the business," he said. Those with the most experience can get businesses up and running quickly, he said.
"This (caucus) is a good thing to do because one, the talent is here, two, it will be an important economic initiative for this part of Connecticut," Altstiel said. "It will help build sustainable jobs, it will bring in interesting people, high-income people."
More people need to know that Connecticut has these industries, Hwang said.
"We have some of the best and brightest right now in Connecticut, but most people don't know it," Hwang said. The solution to growing the industry isn't strictly bonding or state spending, but rather, "cheerleading" and advocating for partnerships and for the use of resources that already exist, he said.