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Elevating the life sciences in Tennessee

Abby Trotter and Ted Townsend, executive director and chairman of the board of Life Science Tennessee, respectively, explain how Tennessee’s life science sector is aiding in economic development.

Abby Trotter and Ted Townsend believe life science is one of the most important industries for improving people’s lives, and that work is more critical than ever in the midst of COVID-19.

“There’s really only one industry that can meet this challenge, to combat and eradicate the threat of this virus and unlock the arrested economy, and that’s the life sciences,” Townsend explained. “All eyes are on this industry right now to help bring the world out of a true crisis,” Trotter added.

In this episode of Disrupt the Continuum, Trotter, along with Townsend, share some of the exciting progress happening in the industry, and they explain how Life Science Tennessee recently formed a strategic partnership with BioTN to execute the statewide Life Science Mentor Network.

The Value of Investing in Life Sciences

For Townsend and Trotter, the benefits of a healthy life science industry aren’t just scientific, they’re also economic.

“36,000 Tennesseans are employed in the life sciences industry from 2,100 establishments across the state. So the employment is high, but I think the other thing that’s interesting and very high is that the average wage of those employees is about $90,000 a person,” Trotter explained.

Life Science Tennessee is partnering with Launch Tennessee to advance and grow the industry across the state because both organizations recognize the potential for high-quality jobs that also make a difference in the world.

“We’re not just talking about economic development and job creation, but we’re talking about economic development and job creation to do some extremely critical things for our world,” Townsend elaborated. “At the essence of what this industry does, it’s to improve the human condition.”

This is especially obvious during crises like COVID-19. Because Tennessee already contains a strong life science infrastructure, organizations across the state have made major contributions to COVID-19 research, and Trotter believes Tennessee will also be a hub for vaccine distribution in the future.

“We’ve seen so many efforts underway to understand the complex mechanisms of the virus and its biological manifestations, but really fuel the rapid comprehension through the apparatus that’s already in place,” Trotter shared. “We are well-equipped to support these companies.”

A Hub of Research, Industry, and Education

In their work with Life Science Tennessee, Townsend and Trotter frequently partner with other companies and institutions, and they believe the strength of those partnerships is a key reason why the life science industry is thriving across the state.

“We really reside at that fulcrum of research, industry, and education,” Townsend explained.

Of the 2,100 life science establishments that employ Tennesseans, many were attracted to the area because of the research being done at universities and other institutions like Oak Ridge National Labs and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Tennessee also appeals to companies because of its central location and the low cost of doing business.

Thanks to all of these factors, the life science sector is growing faster and providing higher-paying jobs than the statewide average, so Trotter believes it should be a central focus for the state moving forward.

“A lot of people don’t see the state of Tennessee as a strong life science state for whatever reason,” she said. “But actually, I think our greatest opportunities are in science-based economic development. If we’re doing a really good job in technology and science, then we know we’re going to be able to build and create the jobs and the industry of the future.”

Please subscribe, rate, and review Disrupt the Continuum wherever you listen to podcasts. This season we’re sharing Tennessee’s entrepreneurial ecosystem story. It’s about how, as a statewide community, we collaborate and provide resources founders need to build, scale, and execute their businesses. It’s the power of our statewide network and the boots-on-the-ground startups that #BuildTN.

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