Deval Patrick wanted to be known as the governor that "got it" when it came to 1 of Massachusetts’ most important industries, the life sciences sector, and he courted industry assiduously during his 8-year tenure as Bay State governor.
Patrick was ubiquitous at life science gatherings in the Commonwealth and abroad, delivering keynote addresses and showing up at various ribbon cuttings to work the room in his role as the industry’s biggest cheerleader.
As Patrick exits public life (for a little while anyway) and gives way to Gov. Charlie Baker, MassDevice.com took a look at the former chief executive’s legacy when it comes to the Commonwealth’s life science industry, which thrived on his watch despite a crippling recession.
The $1 billion man
Any examination of the Patrick legacy starts with the landmark Life Sciences Act of 2008, a sweeping package of tax incentives, infrastructure improvements and low-interest loans meant to stimulate job growth and solidify Massachusetts’ standing as 1 of the leading states for life sciences.
The law was billed as a 10-year, $1 billion initiative. But it’s actually 4 different funding pools, most consisting of tax breaks for infrastructure improvements and capital spending. There’s also a $25 million annual discretionary fund the center uses to make direct investments in small and mid-sized companies in the medical device, pharmaceutical and biotech sectors.
The law also funded a quasi-public agency, the Mass. Life Sciences Center, which was tasked with managing the initiative.
Since it passed the Massachusetts State House 7 years ago, the bill has been a source of some contention in the state, with at least 1 repeal attempt back in 2010.
Critics charge that the law is unfair because it singles out 1 industry for generous subsidies while leaving others to languish under the weight of the recession. Supporters argue that the law helped preserve the state’s lead in the life sciences and pushed forward necessary improvements to infrastructure that will benefit the industry – and the state – for years.
Robert Coughlin, president & CEO of the Mass. Biotechnology Council, told MassDevice.com that the Life Sciences Act was a success because it sent a message to life sciences companies outside of the state that "we want you here."
A partner for the biotech boom
Coughlin, a former Patrick administration official who served as undersecretary for business development at the Executive Office of Housing & Economic Development until 2007, was effusive in his praise for his onetime boss.
"Gov. Patrick and his administration had a huge impact on the biotech and life sciences industry," Coughlin told us. "Eight years ago Massachusetts was known as a really good place for biotech and innovation. Now we’re the best place for biotech and innovation in the world. Eight years ago there weren’t many big pharma companies that had a big presence in Massachusetts. Today 10 of the top 10 have a physical presence here."
Coughlin said Patrick set the tone for the explosion of the Commonwealth’s biotech industry over his 2 terms in office, and it wasn’t all because of the Life Science Initiative.
"I remember being on a conference call on a Sunday morning [with Patrick] and the folks from a major pharmaceutical company to ensure that Massachusetts won the opportunity," he said. "Here’s a hands-on governor who was there for us, no matter what day or what time. That call doesn’t get you votes. This isn’t a press release, or a ribbon-cutting event. This is [Patrick] on a Sunday, closing a deal."
That hands-on, retail approach sent a powerful message to industry, Coughlin added.
"When a governor meets with a CEO of large company and says, ‘We want to be your partner to succeed and create jobs,’ that sends a huge message," he explained.
A more ‘complex’ legacy with medtech
For Tom Sommer, president of the Mass. Medical Device Industry Council, Patrick’s legacy is more complex.
Sommer said that Patrick was probably the most hands-on governor in his memory when it came to cheerleading for the medtech industry. But Patrick also ushered in policies that had a negative impact on the Commonwealth’s medical device industry, he said.
In particular, Sommer points to the gift ban Massachusetts implemented in the summer of 2009, requiring life science companies doing business in the Commonwealth to comply with stringent regulations governing gifts or payments to physicians of more than $50.
Sommer called the gift ban "confounding" and said it had a long-term chilling effect on medtech companies, which historically rely on relationships with physicians to develop new medical technology.
MassMEDIC was vocal in its opposition of the gift ban and Sommer said the industry was told by the Patrick administration that there would be room to modify the rule while it was still in committee on Beacon Hill – a promise, Sommer said, that was not kept by Patrick.
The issue with the gift ban crystalized the complicated relationship the industry had with Patrick’s administration. The governor, he said, was supportive of medtech, but when it came to listening to the industry’s specific recommendations on policies, Patrick leaned on the recommendations of his internal staff over those in industry.
"We received more attention from Patrick than we had as a large industry sector ever before, but we were confounded by some of the actions his administration took," Sommer said. "They seemed to run counter to his interest in supporting the industry."
But Patrick eventually listened to medtech when it came to the gift ban. During his reelection campaign in 2010, the governor said medical device companies were never meant to be included in the ban and in 2011 the state overturned the original gift ban law and replaced it with a less onerous provision.
Another frustration for Sommer was Patrick’s failure to move forward on the establishment of a special commission to study granting a tax credit to the Bay State’s medical device companies to offset the federal medical device tax.
Last summer, as part of the Commonwealth’s fiscal 2015 budget, Patrick charged the secretaries of administration & finance and housing & economic development to examine the potential cost of an offset, its potential benefit for medtech makers and the credit’s economic impact on the state budget.
Sommer said the governor kept pushing back the timelines for the panel.
"When the opportunity came to take action, he stalled and lengthened the term of the blue ribbon commission, and then we learned in October that they were not going to take any action. That was a disappointment," he said.
Nevertheless, Sommer is supportive of Patrick’s overall imprint on the life sciences industry, crediting him with helping create the Medical Device Development Center at the UMass-Lowell and with being a staunch supporter of the industry.
"I think what he’ll be remembered for is the incredible attention that he showed the sector, whether it was attending ribbon-cuttings, national association meetings, acting where he could as a cheerleader," Sommer said. "Overall he just had a strong affinity for the work these companies do. We haven’t seen that since I’ve held the job."
Sommer harkened back to a speech Patrick gave in 2007 at MassMEDIC’s annual meeting, when the governor said that at the end of his tenure he wanted to be known as someone that "got it" when it came to the life sciences sector.
"I think to some degree he did get it," Sommer said.