Commerce secretary, local experts project how recession would affect life sciences
Frederick News Post | Angela Roberts
Is there a recession on the horizon?
Some economists say yes — and predict it’s going to be bad — while others say the United States will avoid one altogether. Still others forecast that one will linger for a while, but be relatively shallow.
But even if the country can’t dodge what many fear will follow record levels of inflation, a panel of experts in the life sciences field said on Tuesday they’re optimistic that the Frederick County biohealth sector may be spared from the worst effects of an economic downturn.
With the National Cancer Institute at Fort Detrick and biotechnology companies like Ellume and Kite nearby, the life sciences industry is quickly becoming a cornerstone of Frederick’s economy.
To take a look at how the future economic climate will affect the state and local biohealth sector, a Frederick-based biotechnology company pulled together experts from an array of fields, including real estate, workforce development and investment.
Maryland Commerce Secretary Mike Gill also joined the discussion, which was moderated by I-270 Innovation Labs CEO Luis Rugeles and hosted at the company’s headquarters in Frederick’s Westview Business Park.
Participants touched upon an array of topics that circled around the question of how the local life sciences sector will fare in the economic climate of the next two years.
Although some panelists expressed more worry for the future than others, all said they felt relatively hopeful. The experts pointed to a number of factors that they said will likely give the Frederick County life sciences field a leg up, if there is an economic downturn.
For one, the area’s low cost of living — relative to other biohealth hubs like Bethesda — makes it an attractive place for new businesses to set up shop and others to relocate.
Recent mergers and acquisitions in the biohealth marketplace in Maryland are also a sign that the sector is maturing, said Brad Fackler, vice president of life sciences for the Maryland Tech Council, a Frederick-based technology trade association.
Matthew Holbook, a regional partner at St. Johns Properties — a commercial real estate firm based in Frederick — added that if there is an economic recession, the government will likely open its pocketbook for contractors as a way of stimulating growth.
Sarah Miller, economic development vice president of Rockville-based Biohealth Innovation, said she doesn’t want to minimize the toll the pandemic had on small biotechnology companies.
But, at the same time, she said, the pandemic also prompted lots of new investment into biotechnology companies. The life sciences sector is strong, she said.
“Not to be corny, but I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that these folks, every day, are waking up and trying to save lives,” she said.
If there is a recession, she said, policymakers on the state and local levels should not forget to encourage entrepreneurship.
Gill took an optimistic tone when predicting the state’s economic outlook. He forecast state revenues to stagnate, but not plummet.
But he predicted doom if Maryland were to raise taxes or add new business regulations.
“That would put Maryland into a recession,” he said. “That’s what not to do. Because we really do have momentum right now. We’ve got real momentum. What we really want to do is maintain it.”