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The Recruitment Gap

By 2003, Ken Drazan was ready to move Arginox Pharmaceuticals, the biotech company he had started as Juventis at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory a year earlier.

Lan Nguyen
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By 2003, Ken Drazan was ready to move Arginox Pharmaceuticals, the biotech company he had started as Juventis at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory a year earlier. The company's location in Long Island, New York, was hindering its growth. A major part of the decision was based on the difficulty of recruiting new talent. "The scarcity of existing companies limits the capacity of a new company to grow rapidly because local talent pools are constantly being depleted," says Drazan. "Research institutions such as SUNY, Stony Brook, are insufficient to fill these pools as their graduates have no industry or start-up experience."

Drazan would have moved to Princeton, NJ, or New Haven, Conn., but for personal reasons, he ultimately settled the company in Menlo Park, Calif. The cross-country shift has been a boon professionally. In particularly, recruitment has become less arduous. "We hired a vice president with biopharma experience from another company...

LESS COMPETITION CAN HELP

<p>Peter Levin</p>

Things are slowly changing. Drazan points to the success of Eyetech Pharmaceuticals, which originated in Manhattan and has remained downtown. Business models like Eyetech, in which a company is license-oriented rather than research-based, have "leveled the playing floor," he says. Others that have gained a toehold in New York are Ortec International, Intra-Cellular Therapies, and ImClone.

And some find the city's less-than-booming biotech industry a tremendous help when it comes to recruiting. "We have far less competition in recruiting than if we were in Cambridge, San Francisco, or even the New Jersey corridor," says Larry Witte, vice president of research at ImClone.

Recruiting for Big Pharma is easier, though Manhattan is more a home for headquarters and satellite offices than the hub of R&D activity for most pharmaceuticals. Pfizer, which is headquartered at East 42nd Street, has most of its research work based in towns like Groton, Conn. Out of 15,000 Pfizer R&D employees worldwide, 1,300 work in the city.

"Our two largest R&D places are in Connecticut and England," says Kym Goddu, senior vice president of Pfizer human resources. "It's not like we're barren in New York City but we do not have a tremendous research and scientific presence."

Still, more often than not, candidates bound for pharmaceuticals land in New Jersey, a hotbed of Big Pharma. The industry's deep pockets have done much to woo good talent away from New York, although there's no way to quantify that trend, say industry observers.

TRAINING GROUND

City-based research and academic institutions, however, have never had a problem attracting stellar students and researchers. Places like New York University and Columbia University have always thrived because they enjoy a first-rate reputation and have smartly developed beneficial relationships with Big Pharma. Pfizer, for example does a lot of its drugs-for-people research in the city because of partnerships with New York City hospitals and academic institutions.

The city is only behind California and New York State in granting the most number of PhDs in life sciences, according to Eric Staeva-Vieira, program associate for the New York Academy of Sciences' Science Alliance.

WHERE ARE THE CHEMISTS?

And yet, there are some shortcomings in the area's talent pool. Some areas, like DNA research, become irresistibly popular and attract more than their fair share of students. At a May 2004 job fair at New York University, says Joanne Peters, branch manager for professional recruiting firm Kelly Scientific Resources, while they gathered 200 resumes of PhDs in molecular biology, "we were going around asking where were the chemists?"

"There are too many in molecular biology – they all want to do DNA work but that may not be where things are heading," she says. "We need people with pure chemistry [backgrounds] and more [people with] BA's and MA's."

Scientists who want to enter industry may also be ill-prepared to work in it. It doesn't help that there aren't enough biotech companies in the city to train with, while Big Pharma is across the Hudson River. "New York City academic institutions need to find creative ways to increase student and postdoc exposure to the industry environment – not only on the day to day laboratory experiences they will encounter at a biotech and at Big Pharma, but also on the business strategy and management side," says Staeva-Vieira.

"It is important for job satisfaction to know what is expected of you and how you can help the company succeed. This can only occur if you are aware of how priorities are established and how each component of the machine works together to get a product out," says Staeva-Vieira. "This includes understanding the research as well as the developmental side of the business, from drug discovery to clinical trials." Some organizations are trying to help change that. A number of centers are now offering courses to help students and faculty move from academic into a corporate environment (see p. 18).

Meanwhile, the New York Academy of Sciences in 2003 started the Science Alliance, a career and professional development program for students and postdocs from 17 area schools, teaching hospitals, and research institutions (see p. 22). Participants attend workshops, network, and have access to job fairs.

THE LIFESTYLE FACTOR

<p>Kym Goddu</p>

Another reason why it is harder to recruit in New York City than other places is the higher cost of living. Sure, settling in the Bay area isn't exactly cheap, but New York City was named the most expensive city in the United States to live in and came in at No. 12 out of 144 worldwide, according to a 2004 report by Mercer Human Resource Consulting. Neighboring towns in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York are just as much of a financial drain. Towns like Greenwich, Conn., Upper Brookville, and Alpine, NY, have always ranked highly on Worth magazine's list of 250 Richest Towns in America.

A company like Pfizer offers lots of options, says Goddu. "You can work in New York City or St. Louis, Missouri, or La Jolla, California, in R&D and have a metropolitan lifestyle," he says. "Or you can have a rural lifestyle living in Groton, Connecticut, or Sandwich, England. Or in an academic town like Ann Arbor, Michigan, and live in the shadow of a university and all it has to offer. People make personal choices."

Ultimately, what attracts talent to companies in New York City has as much to do with personal reasons as professional ones. "New York always appeals to singles," says Peter Levin of executive search firm Egon Zehnder International. "Executives with children tend to go where there are good schools."

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