Life-Changing Success

The economic pulse of Georgia’s life sciences industry beats stronger than ever.

A transformative change has arrived in Georgia’s life sciences industry. Not only is it improving the state’s economy, it’s having a real impact on peoples’ lives around the world. The state’s life sciences industry is growing at an unprecedented rate – outpacing an already rapidly growing industry nationally – delivering a $50.2 billion total economic impact to the state in 2021 with a total value-added impact of $26.7 billion to Georgia’s Gross State Product, representing 3.9% of the state’s total GSP. Credit goes to the creativity, collaboration and vision of behind-the-scenes players who saw that leveraging the state’s greatest strengths – logistics, a highly trained workforce, educational institutions, a friendly business climate and generous tax credits – could foster the growth and support of life sciences.

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Significant Impact: EJane Caraway, director of Life Sciences, Georgia Department of Economic Development: photo Kevin Garrett.

Since 2015, employment growth in this area has more than doubled Georgia’s overall private sector growth (20% job growth for the life sciences industry vs. 9% for Georgia’s private sector), reinforcing the industry’s role in the state’s economic development and its critical role as an economic and innovation powerhouse. The industry has a large footprint, too, with more than 4,000 organizations – including global industry leaders Alcon, Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health, Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi and Takeda, as well as the headquarters of the American Cancer Society, Arthritis Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just to name a few. It also has 78,000 employees who work directly in the industry and another 169,000 working in technology across six sectors: research testing and medical labs, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, digital health, medical distribution, and agricultural and industrial biosciences.

High-paying, High-quality Jobs

“It’s clear the work the industry does every day has a significant impact on Georgia, providing high-paying jobs directly and indirectly across the state,” says EJane Caraway, director of Life Sciences, Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD). “Over the last three-and-a-half years, there were 52,000 job postings. We’re seeing a lot of movement from the Northeast and West Coast because of our better cost of doing business and desirable skill sets. At an average annual salary of $93,000, these jobs help make a difference in our communities.”

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Pharma GIant: Takeda employees doing lab work, above and below: photo contributed.

Caraway adds that the state’s colleges and universities are playing a critical role in building a skilled and diverse pipeline of talent and research activities to support the industry. “Georgia has created an ecosystem that includes corporate innovation centers, research universities, incubators and accelerators,” she says.

She notes Georgia’s strong statewide academic institutions – such as Augusta University, Emory University, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, University of Georgia, Morehouse School of Medicine and Kennesaw State University, among others – are doing groundbreaking research and contributing to the diverse workforce. More than 150,000 degrees are being awarded annually at institutions throughout the state, and the number of graduates in life-science-related disciplines has increased by 14% over the last five years with skills ranging from software development, cybersecurity, data analytics, artificial intelligence, robotics and mechatronics.

Companies also have access to the Technical College System of Georgia’s Quick Start program and its BioScience Training Center, which offers customized training programs to get companies up and running quickly.

Takeda 160622 57aThe life sciences industry has also taken advantage of Georgia’s decades-long reputation as a business-friendly state with special tax credits, such as the Life Science Manufacturing Tax Credit Bonus. In addition to the Job Tax Credit that companies may earn for creating new jobs, companies with jobs dedicated to manufacturing pharmaceuticals, medicine, medical devices and equipment earn a bonus of $1,250 per job.

Changing the Landscape

Nestled among 160 acres of lush, wooded countryside in Covington is a 1.1 million-square-foot campus owned and operated by Tokyo-based pharma giant Takeda. The facility manufactures plasma-derived therapies (PDT) used to combat more than 400 kinds of primary immune deficiency diseases, rare genetic disorders that impair the immune system.

Since construction started in 2012 Takeda has invested more than $2 billion in the facility, which consists of a 200,000-square-foot warehouse, multiple labs, a purification facility, and administrative and common buildings, including a fitness center, credit union and training facility. With nearly 1,500 employees, it’s one of the largest, if not the largest, facility of its type in the country.

“Georgia was not a life sciences hub in 2012,” says Cyril Buckley, vice president of manufacturing operations. “But the state’s commitment in terms of incentives, a business-friendly nature; abundant land, water and utilities; and, most critically, locating its Quick Start program training center literally across the street enabled us to get up and running quickly and efficiently. Even today, the state still reaches out to see how they can help and what they can do to improve.”

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Significant Growth: Cyril Buckley, vice president of manufacturing operations at Takeda: photo Kevin Garrett.

Buckley adds that over the next five to seven years the site will experience significant growth. “This is a strategic site for Takeda with a good growth trajectory. We’ll continue to grow employee headcount and invest in capital expenditures – and always with a sharp focus on sustainability,” he says.

The trickle-down effect of a business this large is hard to overestimate. The company uses dozens of local suppliers, from HVAC and electrical technicians to materials providers, caterers and local hotels. “We make it a priority to use minority suppliers,” says Buckley.

“We take our responsibility to meet patient need very seriously,” says Buckley. “The abundance of talent that’s available in Georgia will enable us to continue to grow and meet demands across the globe.”

Economic Incentives

Before Ryan Adolphson became chief operating officer of RWDC Industries, he was a professor at the University of Georgia’s College of Engineering working on the technology that would form the foundation of this Athens- and Singapore-based operation. Named after its founders, Roland Wee and Dr. Daniel Carraway, RWDC has developed a technology that uses plant-based oils (like used commercial cooking oil) to produce PHA, a biodegradable polymer that can be used as an affordable alternative to single-use plastics such as straws, coffee cups and lids, utensils, plastic bags, food containers and more.

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Audacious Goals: Ryan Adolphson, chief operating officer of RWDC Industries: photo Kevin Garrett.

Currently, there are 110 employees, all based in Athens – operations, production, R&D and sales. The company has invested $100 million in facilities so far with another $100 million slated for the conversion of an old DuPont facility, which will be producing 25,000 tons of biodegradable polymer annually and ultimately expand to 50,000 tons. All of the oil used for the polymer comes from a local supplier in nearby Monroe, according to Adolphson.

“We looked at [sites in] several states in the Southeast before settling on Athens,” says Adolphson. “Georgia stood up and said, ‘We want you to stay here.’ In addition to state incentives, the Athens-Clarke County economic development team provided incentives and helped us find partners at state and local levels that have been key resources.”

Adolphson adds that the proximity to UGA and tech schools has led to an exceptionally collaborative environment. “We have access to intellectual resources at all levels,” he says. “The workforce is great. We haven’t had to find and relocate people because they’re all here.”

“We have a big, audacious goal ahead of us to change the world,” says Adolphson. “Our teammates are committed to the company and our goals. And Georgia has been a remarkable partner in helping attain our goal of a more sustainable future.”

Medical Devices

If you’ve ever had stitches for a cut, a wound or a surgical procedure, chances are the suture was manufactured on the Georgia campus of Ethicon, makers of eight out of every 10 sutures used worldwide. Ethicon is part of Johnson & Johnson’s MedTech group and has locations in Athens and Cornelia in what is collectively called the Georgia Campus. The Georgia Campus primarily supports the production of sutures, needles and adhesives used in surgery, and is the top supplier of biomaterial components for finished goods in Ethicon’s wound closure offerings. Both locations make sutures, needles and adhesives used in general surgery, and they’re the top suppliers of biomaterial components that let surgeons match wound healing to tissue type.

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Improving Lives: Kennon Yori, Ethicon plant manager: photo contributed.

Johnson & Johnson has been operating at the Cornelia location since 1946 – now at a massive 325,000-square-foot facility located on 152 acres – where it first manufactured sutures in 1969. The company built its Athens plant, a 141,000- square-foot facility on 29.5 acres, in 2012.

Both campuses employ hundreds of people, ranging from manufacturing to environmental health and safety, with a large portion of the workforce sourced from local communities. The Georgia Campus runs a co-op program with local colleges, a technical training program and an employment partnership to help people with disabilities reach independence and self-sufficiency.

“Our Georgia operations are an integral part of Ethicon’s global supply chain, producing billions of units each year to support the production of vital wound-closure products. These products are ultimately used by our customers in operating rooms all over the world and allow patients access to the life-enhancing surgery they need,” Kennon Yori, plant manager, said in a statement. “We have close ties to the state. I believe this local connection is at the heart of who we are, and I could not be prouder that our teams here are building on Ethicon’s heritage and helping to shape the future of our global business.”

“We want to be a global hub for life science research, innovation and investment, delivering products, services and changing peoples’ lives for the better,” says Carraway. “Georgia is successful because we work together to seek solutions – citizens, the legislature, partnerships and relationships – that’s what Georgia is all about. We get things done.”


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Collaborative Environment: RWDC Industries in Athens makes sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based plastics: photo contributed.








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