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Mapped: North America’s top life sciences clusters

What are the top life sciences clusters in North America? We've used location quotient data to identify the continent's highest density communities.

Even before COVID-19, the life sciences industry was big business. Pharmaceuticals, in particular, are massive wealth generators. Following a once-in-a-generation global health emergency, the focus on life science is only going to strengthen.

This article is part of a series that looks at the highest-density clusters in North America. This series will include entries on technology, advanced manufacturing, business services, finance and insurance, food and beverage and creative industries.

Growing in life sciences could mean a lot of things. Your company could be looking for manufacturing capacity, research and development or even health technology. As a result, the type of talent you need – manufacturing, medical/scientific or tech – depends on your exact needs. That said, the strongest life sciences clusters tend to have strength in all three areas.

It makes sense to find a strong cluster if you’re planning to expand your life science company. The Harvard Business Review has argued that clusters help drive innovation, productivity, new business growth and help businesses within the cluster scale.

How do you find a strong life sciences cluster?

Site selectors use something called location quotient (LQ). In really simple terms, LQ compares an industry’s share of employment in an individual community with the national average. We’ve taken LQ measurements of North America’s top life sciences communities to figure out a) whether there are any surprises and b) which ecosystems have the strongest clusters.

Here are North America’s top large and mid-sized life sciences clusters:

North America Full Map

What are you seeing?

If the circle is green, it’s a “true” cluster. If it’s red, then a cluster effect isn’t evident. The circle size is representative of total cluster employment – the bigger the circle, the more employees. As you can see, a community can have high employment in a particular industry but NOT be a cluster.

Who sticks out for life sciences concentration?

Well, there aren’t a lot of true clusters. Basically, we’re talking about Toronto, Montreal and that’s it for larger centres. That’s… surprising. Having Toronto on the list isn’t surprising. Both Toronto and Montreal have large health innovation ecosystems – but the absence of Boston, San Francisco or New York is a head scratcher. We’re using government-sourced data, so we can’t exactly explain why so few communities make the grade. Hypotheses? Pharma manufacturing might be included under the manufacturing industry, which would take away huge numbers of employees in some of these cities. Same thing with medtech, which might fall under technology. After that, perhaps it’s just hard to have a life sciences cluster – it might just be really rare to have that sort of talent density.

For the first time, Waterloo also doesn’t appear as a true cluster. Why? Well, we don’t have a major research hospital, though we’re close to a bunch, including those in Hamilton and Toronto (which are both within 100km/65mi). When it comes to life sciences, our contribution is also skewed toward technological solutions – companies like Intellijoint Surgical, for example. Last but not least, we’re really just building our capacity. It was only two years ago the Medical Innovation Xchange – Canada’s first private medtech hub – opened. New investments in health innovation, like the University of Waterloo’s innovation arena and new Eye Institute, are in the works.

With that said, here are the top 5 large life sciences clusters in North America – defined as high LQ communities with total cluster employment over 20,000:

  1. Montreal – LQ = 1.528 – Total Cluster Employment: 26,760
  2. Toronto – LQ = 1.403 – Total Cluster Employment: 47,260
  3. Vancouver – LQ = 0.934 – Total Cluster Employment: 10,035
  4. Indianapolis – LQ = 0.852 – Total Cluster Employment: 15,689
  5. Salt Lake City – LQ = 0.802 – Total Cluster Employment: 10,252

Here are the top 5 mid-size life sciences clusters in North America – defined as high LQ communities with total cluster employment under 20,000 (but above 2,000):

  1. Hamilton – LQ = 1.083 – Total Cluster Employment: 3,495
  2. Quebec City – LQ = 1.046 – Total Cluster Employment: 3,810
  3. Calgary – LQ = 0.565 – Total Cluster Employment: 3,735
  4. Raleigh-Durham – LQ = 0.371 – Total Cluster Employment: 4,081
  5. San Jose – LQ = 0.349 – Total Cluster Employment: 6,934
We’re happy to help your company make an informed expansion decision.

Waterloo EDC has comparative LQ data for communities across North America for multiple industries, including technology, advanced manufacturing, life sciences and more. Want access?