December 24, 2018
Economic Forecast: manufacturing

Specialty industries: Biotech, cannabis, tariffs to highlight manufacturing in 2019

Michael Dundas, CEO of Sira Naturals.

Manufacturing, specifically advanced manufacturing and biomanufacturing, continues to make strides in Central Massachusetts, but rising international trade tensions and tariffs threaten to derail some longtime champions of the industry.

On the other hand, new and exciting industries continue to make their presence known in Worcester County.

Biomanufacturing will continue to make strides in Central Mass.

The long-proposed Worcester Biomanufacturing Park has finally landed an anchor tenant in China's WuXi Biologics, which is planning a $60-million biomanufacturing facility at the site of the former Worcester State Hospital.

That news came just months after California-based biologics firm LakePharma pulled out of the project to instead move into a 70,000-square-foot facility in Hopkinton.

With an anchor tenant, the Worcester Business Development Corp.'s vision for the park may finally come to fruition as more biotech tenants are expected to sign on in the coming months and years.

Photo/Grant Welker
The Bryan Building at the former Worcester State Hospital grounds is being demolished to make way for WuXi, a Chinese biomanufacturer.

The region's industry giants, like Boston Scientific and Hologic, will continue to make headlines for new products and massive acquisitions.

Tariffs and trade wars

Several more traditional Central Massachusetts manufacturers have openly complained about tariffs and a seemingly never-ending trade war with China has begun hurting business.

If the situation doesn't resolve itself at the federal level, some small businesses in Central Massachusetts could, at the least, severely reduce staff and cut jobs. That would be crushing for an industry already struggling to fill open jobs due to a lack of skilled workers.

Oxford laser makers IPG Photonics has seen its stock tumble due to what the company calls geopolitical and macroeconomic woes, and wire mesh maker Riverdale Mills says tariffs on steel are causing raw material prices to skyrocket.

It's clear that this road isn't sustainable for an industry that's been fighting tooth and nail to stay relevant.

Weed, beer and food

On the flipside, the area could get a huge boost from recreational cannabis.

Photo | Courtesy
Mustang Bio's building in Worcester.

Worcester County and Central Massachusetts has become a hotspot for the budding, highly-taxed industry.

Massachusetts lawmakers are expecting up to $1 billion in legal weed sales next fiscal year, and two adult-use stores in the state have already taken in more than $7 million in gross sales through the first three weeks.

So far, there are 47 cannabis business license applications in Worcester County, including for cultivation, manufacturing and retail sales. The region is by far the busiest for the industry so far.

On a related note, some data shows craft beer can take a hit in states with recreational marijuana, but new breweries are still opening throughout the area.

Consumer-facing industries like cannabis, beer and Worcester staples like Polar Beverage and Table Talk Pies appear to be thriving.

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