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By the Numbers: Madison Area Biotech Employment

Published by Laura Strong at of February 6, 2013

Laura Strong Laura Strong serves as the President and Chief Operating Officer at Quintessence Biosciences, a clinical stage biopharmaceutical company focused on development of proprietary cancer therapies. She is also a lead instructor for the Advanced Biotechnology: Global Operations capstone course for the M.S. in Biotechnology program. Outside of Quintessence, she is active in the small business community in Wisconsin as a mentor in the MERLIN program and a member of Capital Entrepreneurs. Prior to Quintessence, Dr. Strong earned a PhD in organic chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.



Madison Employment Sector Overview

Biotech employment numbers for states are often pulled from the Batelle/BIO State Bioscience Industry Development report. The five sectors are: Agricultural feedstock & chemicals, Drugs & pharmaceuticals, Medical devices & equipment, Research, Testing & Medical Laboratories and Bioscience-related distribution. The 2012 report puts Wisconsin biotech employment across five sectors at 30,796 jobs across 1,366 establishments. While the report is useful for comparison across states, the data is more difficult to parse out relative to an impact on a city or county level.

A couple of months ago I shared some data about the size of biotech companies in the Madison area (technically Dane County). Data from Biotech Profiles shows that ~15% of Madison biotech companies have >100 employees and according to In Business Madison 9 of the Top 100 employers in the area are biotech companies. The question that remained was how much bigger than 100 employees are these biotech companies.

Fortunately, the folks at InBusiness have been hard at work collecting data for their 2013 Book of Lists. Companies in Dane County (includes Madison and surrounding area) were surveyed about a variety of topics including what the business does and how many full time employees they have. At the bottom of the post, I've included the company name and a brief description of the business.


Biotech Employment - Dane County WI


Strong, Broad Base

The five largest (broadly defined) biotech employers in the Madison area represent a range of sectors (EHR, two CROs, tools and medical devices) and a wide distribution of size (from 6,2000 employees to ~700 employees). The graph below incorporates the biotechnology (black bars) and medical device (blue) lists as well as four health-related information technology companies (red). Two companies were not included in the graph due to scale. Epic, an electronic health record (EHR) company, is the number one employer in Dane County with 6,200 employees and pharmaceutical development and testing company Covance comes in at #8 with 1,860 employees. *Data from the 2012 Book of Lists was used for Forte Research and Catalent Pharma Solutions after confirming recent numbers.



The biotechnology category is representative of the breadth of the industry in the area with companies from agriculture to instrumentation to drug manufacturing.

Another interesting feature is that four of the sixteen biotech companies have operations in other areas of the state as well. Thermo Fisher Scientific has operations in at least three other Wisconsin areas, near Green Bay, Janesville and Milwaukee. SAFC has a cGMP manufacturing facility in Madison and raw materials facilities in Sheboygan and Milwaukee. Currently Hologic has Madison (formerly Third Wave Technologies) and Waukesha (Gen-Probe (Prodesse)) operations while Becton Dickinson has facilities in Madison and Franklin. Unfortunately, Hologic and Becton Dickinson are shutting their Madison sites by the end of 2014, resulting in ~250 lost jobs.


Medical Devices

Comparing the size of medical device and biotech companies might initially suggest that the medical device companies generally have fewer employees. However, the effect is likely just a result of the broad definition of biotech used. Breaking down biotech into more defined categories (e.g. instrumentation or contract manufacturing) would result fewer employees in the top 10-15 companies in each category.

As in biotech, the medical device companies have other Wisconsin operations. GE Healthcare is the largest medical device employer in Dane County, but the majority of their employees in the state are located near their headquarters in the Milwaukee area (Waukesha). Cardiac Science is also headquartered in Waukesha.


Health/Life Sciences Tech

Epic is a large employer in the area-in fact, the number one employer in Dane County-but isn't categorized as biotech or medical devices. The Information Technology list had companies with diverse customer bases that included or focused on health care/life sciences. Four health/life sciences IT companies are included in the graph above. One question about these numbers is whether employment is the right comparator for technology based companies vs. the biotech and medical device companies.

Two additional considerations for how these companies have grown and will continue to grow are: where are they headquartered and how long have they been around?


Outpost vs. Headquarters?

About two thirds of these companies are "local" (have their headquarters in Wisconsin).

  • Outposts: Covance, PPD, Thermo Fisher, Accuray, Hologic, BD, Bruker, Natus Medical, Catalent, SAFC, Gulf South
  • Wisconsin Headquarters: Cardiac Science (Waukesha), Epic, GE Healthcare (Waukesha), Promega, ABS Global, Symphony Corporation, Scientific Protein Labs, Coating Place, Gilson, Virent, Minitube, Cellular Dynamics, Genome Intl, Quantum Devices, Gammex, Standard Imaging, Naviant, Bjorksten/bit 7, Neuwave, Forte Research

While this difference may not have a significant impact on evaluating potential employers, the approach to building economic development relationships is likely different for satellite facilities. Given the number of employees working for companies headquartered outside of the state, we should be sure to connect with those companies to encourage growth in Wisconsin. Because of the broad and diverse base of larger employers, the community should be watching for how to attract talent for these companies as they grow as well as working to retain talent as companies shift operations to other geographies.



The data in the graph above is an appropriate reflection of the title of Luke Timmerman’s Xconomy piece "The Wisconsin Biotech Story: Slow and Steady Wins the Race". When the companies are broken down by age, approximately one third of the companies were started over the last twenty years.

Companies started in 2000's

  • Forte Research Systems (Private)
  • NeuWave (Private; Raised $14M in 2012 to add to >$10M previously raised)
  • Cellular Dynamics (Private; Raised $21M in 2012 to add to $40.6M raised in 2010 and more if dig back to founding in 2004)
  • Virent (Private; Raised $46.4M in June 2010, largely from Shell, Cargill Ventures and Honda, that were existing partners/investors)

Companies started in the 1990's

  • Accuray (previously a public company Tomotherapy)
  • Hologic (previously a public company Third Wave)
  • SAFC (previously a private company Tetrionics)
  • Catalent Pharma Solutions (previously a private company Gala Design)
  • Coating Place (Private)
  • Symphony Corp (Private)
  • Genome Intl (Private) 

Company Name and Brief Description


Covance Labs - Contract research organization

Promega - Research products

PPD - Contract research organization

Thermo Fisher Scientific - Research instruments

ABS Global - Agriculture (bovine genetics)

Exact Sciences - Colon cancer molecular diagnostics screening

Scientific Protein Laboratories LLC - cGMP biopharmaceutical manufacturing

Hologic - Formerly Third Wave Technologies.  Site to shut down by September 18, 2014

BD - Makes media for BD Diagnostic products. Site to shut down by the end of 2014.

Bruker AXS - Analytical instruments

Coating Place - Pharmaceutical GMP Wurster process (drug microencapsulation)

Gilson - Solutions for liquid handling and chromatography (including pipettes)

SAFC - Manufacturing of high potent active pharmaceutical ingredients (API)

Virent Inc - Products from soluble biomass-derived sugars

Minitube of America - Agriculture (assisted reproduction technologies)

FUJIFILM Cellular Dynamics Inc. - Research tools using induced pluripotent stem cells

Catalent Pharma Solutions - cGMP manufacturing of biopharmaceuticals


Medical Devices

GE Healthcare - Medical devices including anesthesia products, former Datex Ohmeda

Accuray (parent of Tomotherapy) - Medical device

Cardiac Science - Medical device

Natus Medical (the Nicolet neurodiagnostic business) - Medical devices

Quantum Devices - Product design and development of optoelectronics

Gammex - Products for optical alignment and quality control imaging needs

Standard Imaging Inc. - Supplier of radiation calibration and quality assurance instruments for health care

Bjorksten/bit 7 - Product development consulting, including prototyping

NeuWave Medical - Energy-based minimally invasive medical devices

Gulf South Medical Supply - Medical supplies for long-term care, home health and hospice care


Healthcare/Life sciences Information Technology

Epic - Electronic health records

Symphony Corporation - Software solutions for customers including healthcare, medical devices, life sciences

Genome International Corp. - Bioinformatics products and custom solutions for laboratories in biomedical and plant sciences

Naviant Inc. - Healthcare document management but also serves other industries

Forte Research Systems - Clinical trial management software