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The Lone Star state has seen many booms. Oil and gas, aeronautical, hi-tech and even manufacturing. Right now, another sector is taking off here in Texas: life sciences. 

This is the study of living organisms, including biology, physiology, biochemistry, botany, zoology and related disciplines. These have applications for research and academia as well as for big business, which means they are important for our state’s economy, Texans’ career prospects and how attractive the state is for employers and talent.

They call it a boom because it is accelerating quickly. If it gives you a sense, total venture capital funding for the life sciences industry for the year ending Q2 2020 was a record $17.8 billion1. While Life Sciences has a primary foothold in Boston, San Francisco, and San Diego, Houston, Austin, and Dallas are three of the top six emerging life sciences markets. 

But what we’re seeing now is that because of the talent and business environment, companies like Caris Life Sciences, Fujifilm Diosynth, Thermo Fisher Scientific, and others increasingly want to set up shop in additional locations around the state that offer readily available talent, a high quality of life for their employees and the infrastructure to support their real estate needs. 

It's important to understand that life sciences facilities are not “development as usual.” That means a Class A or Class B office or light manufacturing site or facility cannot be easily retrofitted. In fact, new construction is often the easiest way to create something suitable for these resource-intensive companies. Power and water redundancy are critical for these types of operations, and sustainability is critically important. Understanding the cost and schedule implications of how these complex projects will tie into existing utility infrastructure and integrate with neighboring communities is truly important. 

Speed to market is another serious consideration for life sciences companies due to the pace of innovation and the implications of the problems they are working to address. Broadly speaking, delays and budget issues are unfortunately common in the world of life sciences construction. 

Overspending and delays are usually due to a failure to accurately anticipate the time and resources needed to complete utility, mechanical, electrical, process piping and plumbing installations, as well as associated commissioning, qualification and what’s known as validation. That all takes experience.

Texas has long been a “friendly place” to work and set up operations. As the business environment evolves across the nation, companies appear to be looking for tax friendly, life science friendly and workforce friendly places. Many of the top tier research universities in Texas have been ramping up efforts over the past decade to attract research personnel, grants and key resumes to move them up in relevant rankings. The cumulative efforts have a magnetic affect for these companies. That’s because life science, medical, and engineering intensive institutions want more collaboration for discovery, commercialization, and scaling efforts. Texas can offer these in a big way.

Today, we are working on two large vivariums (an enclosure, container, or structure adapted or prepared for keeping animals under semi natural conditions for observation or study) including one that’s part of a state-of-the-art research facility that will focus on innovation and impact for biomedical research for Emory University in Atlanta. This is the kind of advanced project that could find a home here—and the kind of experience needed to get Texas up to speed—but we all need to get ready. 

These kinds of facilities cannot simply be put into ordinary facilities and so it is also important that brokers, owners, and tenants across Texas have partners that understand the demands of life sciences tenants as well as the lay of the land locally. That’s why we have a presence across the state.

This way of working in life sciences construction is critically important for Texas. Projects are moving faster than ever, at times at “warp speed", with tighter tolerances and little room for error. The Covid-19 pandemic has increased the need for flexibility and adaptability with the design and construction of research facilities and the commercial real estate industry must keep pace in this rapidly evolving environment. Extreme efficiency and certainty can be achieved with best practices such as pre-fabrication, modularization, design-build methods, sourcing materials and industrial fixtures in bulk as well as data-driven estimation and project management throughout. 

A deep bench of career experts in life sciences construction professionals means seeing around corners, calling in niche specialists at a moment’s notice for whatever the need and applying best practices from across the nation—and the decades.

We don’t see this strictly as a competitive advantage. There’s a larger ecosystem required to make life sciences successful across the state. That’s why we want to work with our industry and trade partners as well as economic development professionals and the commercial real estate communities to further advance this booming industry in our state. Life sciences are good for humanity and good for our economy. We are investing our time, talent and resources in this market and encourage state and local leaders to get behind the movement to make Texas the leader in life sciences.

About The Authors
Kathy Carr is Vice President, Director of Client Solutions and Hyde Griffith is Vice President, Director of Client Solutions at JE Dunn Construction, a leader in the commercial construction industry since 1924 with 24 offices across the country.