Why Bothell attracts so many biomed businesses

Canyon Park Business Center on the Snohomish County side of Bothell is home to several biomedical companies.

Canyon Park Business Center on the Snohomish County side of Bothell is home to several biomedical companies.

For the past 25 years or so, Bothell has been quietly attracting dozens of biomedical, medical and industrial manufacturing companies.

Quiet, that is, for those not paying attention to the industries. For those on the inside, the city is a natural choice.

“Regionally, I don’t know why I would go somewhere other than Bothell at this point,” said Jens Quistgaard, CEO of Mirabilis Medica.

His Bothell-based startup is developing ultrasound technology which treats noncancerous tumors in the human uterus.

Quistgaard has been working in Bothell for two decades after taking a job at Advanced Technology Laboratories in the early 1990s, and said the industry has grown steadily over that time.

“I think it’s kind of unique that, again, certainly over the course of the last 25 years, that there’s been such a concentration of so many biomedical businesses in a place like this,” he said.

In 2009, five regional organizations partnered together to create a ‘Biomedical Device Innovation Partnership Zone’ in Bothell. These included the city of Bothell, the Snohomish County Economic Development Council, University of Washington Bothell, the Economic Development Council of Seattle and King County and Life Science Washington, and focuses on attracting and retaining biomedical businesses.

According to lifesciencewa.org, a business organization and industry lobbyist group, there are 240 biotechnology companies, 416 medical technology and life science companies and 126 digital health and health Internet technology companies across the state, directly employing around 36,300 people as of 2015 and an additional 98,100 support workers.

These industries provide around $12.5 billion dollars to the state’s gross domestic product, according to the website.

Bothell City Manager Bob Stowe said there are currently some 25,000 workers who come to Bothell, many of whom are in biomedical, technology and manufacturing fields, though no exact numbers were available.

A 2009 study commissioned by the Washington Research Council found some 35 companies in Bothell manufacturing either biotechnology, pharmaceuticals or medical devices, tied with Redmond for the second-most businesses with only Seattle beating both cities. Of these, medical device jobs in Bothell alone accounted for 2,800 jobs, nearly half of all jobs in the Puget Sound area.

But what is it that makes Bothell so attractive to technology companies?

The city is ideally placed for new businesses for a number of reasons, said Matt Smith, director of industry and resource development with the Economic Alliance Snohomish County.

“If you look at what’s happening in South Lake Union in Seattle, a lot of that is (research and development),” Smith said. “If you look at what’s happening out in Bothell, it’s that Bothell is a manufacturing center.”

Manufacturing requires more space than research, and with ever skyrocketing property prices in Seattle, Smith said many companies look to Bothell.

The manufacturing operations are focused on full and pilot manufacturing, testing out products which then, if they catch on, companies can upgrade to larger facilities, Smith said.

Bothell has two sprawling business parks: North Creek in King County, and Canyon Park in Snohomish, offering companies the physical footprint required for manufacturing.

Many tech businesses have research and development centered in South Lake Union and manufacturing branches in Bothell, Smith said, allowing an easy commute between facilities.

Kent Patton, communications officer for Snohomish County, said Bothell’s cheaper housing also boosts interest.

“Anecdotally, a lot of people just end up saying, ‘Listen, when you try and house something near Redmond and Seattle, and you want people to work for you it ends up being kind of tough,’” he said.

A solid K-12 school district, graduates from UW Bothell and Edmonds and Everett Community Colleges, a growing downtown in Bothell, proximity to similar businesses and expertise and lower taxes than Seattle and other metropolitan areas also helps, Smith said.

“All of those are going to be hugely helpful to any business if you need trained folks, or educated folks, to come into your enterprise,” he said.

The city also does not have a business and operations tax, a fee many surrounding cities have implemented.

All these factors coalesce to keep Quistgaard and his ultrasound company in Bothell.

“There’s a lot of people here who really understand ultrasound, I mean this is a great place to run an ultrasound business,” he said.

Seeking to encourage this, the Innovation Partnership Zone, governed by a board of volunteers including business and city leaders, recently launched the Mercury Incubator, which provides startups a place to rent that comes stocked with specialized tools and equipment.

But the industry can also be volatile. A 2014 article by the Seattle Times chronicles the rise and fall of one of the regions biggest stars, Amgen, resulting in the loss of around 660 jobs in Seattle and Bothell, and the inability of the industry as a whole to produce a juggernaut business.

But based on the strength of the Innovation Parternship Zone partners and the city of Bothell’s efforts Quistgaard said the hub of innovation in Bothell and the northwest should continue.

“I think Bothell has certainly been very supportive,” he said. “It’s a fine relationship that I hope to see continuing well into the future.”

Aaron Kunkler:425-318-7651; akunkler@bothell-reporter.com.

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