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Nebraska’s Fast-Growing Bioscience Industry

Nebraska’s Fast-Growing Bioscience Industry

By Governor Pete Ricketts

October 18, 2022

 

Governor’s official photo here.

 

In 2024, NASA will send a small surgical robot from Nebraska to the International Space Station.  The tiny, two-pound robot will be able to perform surgeries on the space station that would normally require a surgeon’s expertise and much larger equipment.  The surgical robot can operate more or less on its own, performing complex procedures at the flip of a switch.  The device, developed by Nebraska-based Virtual Incision, is a significant step toward making it possible for surgeons to operate remotely—whether their patients are in deep space or on a battlefield halfway around the world.

 

Virtual Incision’s surgical robot is just one example of the many breakthrough products Nebraska’s bioscience companies are creating.  From biomedicine to biofuels to biochemicals, companies in our state are on the cutting edge of innovation.  We’re growing our bioscience industry by prioritizing research and development, making it easy for bioscience companies to do business, and helping to develop the workforce talent bioscience firms need to grow.

 

Prioritizing Bioscience R&D

 

Our universities are doing tremendous work in the biosciences right here in Nebraska.  In 2021, for the fifth straight year, the University of Nebraska system ranked among the top 100 academic institutions worldwide in earning U.S. patents.  Virtual Incision, founded by faculty members at UNL and UNMC, received four surgical robotics patents last year.  The State has supported Virtual Incision’s growth with $1 million of funding through the Business Innovation Act (BIA).  Bioscience startups can count on strong support in the Cornhusker State.  Nebraska ranks #7 nationally in academic bioscience R&D expenditures per capita. 

 

We’ve invested in creating the physical spaces where bioscience companies can translate their ideas into reality.  In 2017, the Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED) was part of a coalition that launched the Biotech Connector at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Innovation Campus.  It’s a startup incubator dedicated to biotech companies, with more than 7,700 feet of leasable wet lab space.  These specialized labs have the water, utilities, and ventilation needed to conduct advanced tests on biomaterials. 

  

Supporting Bioscience Production

 

While working to become an incubator of high-growth startups, we’re also making it easier for bioscience firms to build production facilities in Nebraska.  With our state’s abundance of agricultural feedstocks, we’ve had major success recruiting investment from bioprocessors.  Cargill’s campus in Blair has become a hotbed of bioscience activity.  In the past five years, several European bioscience companies have made major investments there: Avansya (Dutch/American), Corbion (Dutch), Evonik (German), Novozymes (Danish), and Veramaris (Dutch/German).  Last month, the City of Blair won a $1.5 million federal grant to increase water capacity to the biocampus to support a $300+ million expansion of Novozymes’ biotech facility. 

 

The Nebraska Department of Economic Development has a Site and Building Development Fund to help manufacturers relocate or expand.  For instance, DED supported Corbion’s growth in Blair with a $100,000 Site and Building Development grant.  In 2021, Viridis Chemical received a $200,000 grant for work at its site in Columbus.  In March 2022, the company announced a breakthrough with the first production of renewable ethyl acetate at its manufacturing plant. 

 

The Nebraska Department of Transportation's (NDOT) Economic Opportunity Program helps support growth across the State through grants for strategic transportation improvements that connect businesses to Nebraska’s statewide transportation network.  For example, NDOT has approved $450,000 to help Merck Animal Health, a biopharmaceutical company, make turn lane improvements near their facility in metro Omaha.  The agency has also approved a half-million dollars for road improvements at the Heartwell Renewables biofuel production facility being built in Hastings.

 

Developing Nebraska’s Bioscience Workforce

 

Nebraska has nearly 18,000 bioscience jobs.  These are great-paying jobs, with an average annual salary of $70,000.  We’re equipping Nebraskans with the education and skills they need to excel in the bioscience industry. 

 

The talent pipeline we’ve built to connect our graduates with rewarding jobs includes preparation for careers in the biosciences.  Lincoln Public Schools’ Career Academy has a dedicated agricultural bioscience pathway.  Students get hands-on experience working in a greenhouse, take field trips to bioscience companies, and do internships with local employers.  Through a partnership with Southeast Community College, students at LPS can begin work toward a biotechnology certification or earn credits toward a postsecondary degree.  Students at Southeast Community College majoring in Biotechnology are eligible for the Nebraska Career Scholarships we created in 2020.

 

While training future graduates for the biosciences, we’re also investing in the ongoing education of Nebraskans working in the industry.  DED provides customized job training funds to support companies whose people need training to use new technology or equipment.  For example, DED provided Cargill with $700,000 of funds from 2016 to 2018 to help its teammates in Nebraska gain new skills.

 

The biosciences are booming in Nebraska, and we’ll continue to support the industry through university research, through our business-friendly climate, and by developing a world-class workforce.  If you have questions about the State’s work to support the growth of the bioscience industry, please contact me at pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or 402-471-2244.