Phoenix Metro Growing Quickly as Hub for Life Sciences Researchers, CBRE Report Finds

Article originally posted on Phoenix Business Journal on June 22, 2023


The Phoenix metro is the center of an emerging cluster of life-sciences research talent, according to a new report from CBRE Group Inc.

The designation means the Valley’s research institutions have attracted impressive levels of funding from the National Institutes of Health, bringing in $143 million in funding in 2022. That amount is the fifth-highest in the nation and shows promising activity for the Valley, the U.S. Life Sciences Research Talent 2023 report found.

Arizona State University was the largest recipient of NIH funds in the state, the report said, adding that ASU now has 4,130 life sciences researchers.

The analysis also found that the Phoenix metro has the nation’s fastest rate of growth for new life sciences graduates, with a 90% increase between 2016 and 2021. That far surpassed the next highest graduate growth rate, which was a little less than 50% in Riverside/San Bernardino in California.

The report’s authors indicated that shows the strong potential for growing that sector in Arizona.

The trend for life science growth can be seen at ground level in Phoenix. In April, the city designated its third bioscience hub, focused at the Park Central development in midtown. Park Central is in the midst of a $1 billion redevelopment, and has attracted key players such as the Creighton University medical school.

Just across the street is Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, which houses the world-renowned Barrow Neurological Institute. A 75,000-square-foot brain tumor center recently opened on that hospital campus.

Still, the Valley’s current pool of life sciences research talent doesn’t compare to those of major centers in the Northeast, from Boston to Washington, D.C., and California. The Phoenix metro doesn’t crack the top 25, which is how many metros were ranked in the report.

Phoenix also remains smaller than many other markets in terms of percentage of the labor force employed in the sector. But none of those places can match the Phoenix metro for churning out life science research labor, the report showed.

Phoenix cost of living beats other research hubs

The Phoenix metro has seen 33% growth in total number of life sciences researchers between 2017 and 2022, tying it with Dallas-Fort Worth for the third largest rate in the nation. Only Atlanta and Denver/Boulder had higher growth rates, at 36% and 35%, respectively.

Cost of living is another thing Phoenix has going for it in comparison with major life sciences research hubs. CBRE calculated the relation between a different metros’ cost of living and the average salaries for a select group of occupations — biochemists, biomedical engineers, chemists and biophysicians. In Phoenix, the average salary for life sciences researchers surpassed $100,000 while the cost of living was $52,545, the 11th lowest of the 28 metros in the report.

Demand for life-sciences research workers has risen 87% in the past two decades, and in 2023, has risen above pre-pandemic levels, according to CBRE Advisory Services Life Sciences Leader Matt Gardner.

“We’re also seeing a closely balanced ratio of hiring to job cuts in the biopharma industry compared with the technology sector and the broader economy, which positions the life sciences to remain stable despite an economic downturn,” Gardner said in a statement.

In its report, CBRE evaluated the number and concentration of bioscience researchers in the largest U.S. life-sciences labor markets, as well as the number of new graduates with life-sciences degrees, concentration of all doctorate degree holders, and concentration of jobs in the broader professional and scientific services professions across each market.

Across the U.S., life-sciences research professions increased in head count by 3% in 2022 to a record 545,000 specialists, while overall job growth rate in the U.S. last year was 2.2%. Digital and analytics jobs doubled in the last five years as artificial intelligence and machine learning ramp up. The industry also experienced a shift from chemistry to biology, with a 1.2% decrease in the number of chemists over the past five years.