Vacaville shown on Google Maps

Vacaville, Calif. is home to a burgeoning biotech hub.

And there’s more to Vacaville’s biomanufacturing industry than Genentech’s presence there. “Genentech is just one of the biotech companies to open in Vacaville,” said Don Burrus, the city’s director of economic development services. “We’ve had biomanufacturers here for almost 30 years.”

Genentech set up shop in the city, located 35 miles southeast of Sacramento, in the late 1990s. The company acquired land in the city in 1994.

More recently, Lexington, Mass.–based Agenus purchased 120 acres in the city.

When Burrus began working for the city in June 2020, he collaborated with economists and other economic development experts to analyze the city’s economic drivers.

“We were able to determine that biomanufacturing and advanced manufacturing were big economic drivers,” Burrus said.

After performing the analysis, Burrus went to the city council and recommended creating an initiative to support further biomanufacturing growth. That conversation led to the formation of the nonprofit California Biomanufacturing Center, which debuted in October 2020. The city has woven its existing life science park into the center.

Matt Gardner, the president of the center, told Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News that he predicts the region to attract at least 10,000 biotech jobs in coming decades.

Part of the appeal of Vacaville is its support of biomanufacturing. “R&D can be done anywhere,” Burrus said. “You can take an office building and turn that into a wet lab or lab space. But that’s not the case when it comes to biomanufacturing.”

Biomanufacturing has long been Vacaville’s niche. “All of our companies are biomanufacturers,” Burrus said.

One of the central drivers of the biomanufacturing industry has been Solano Community College, which is one of a handful in the nation with a biomanufacturing focus.

“The program is so highly rated that many of the students don’t get a chance to graduate,” Burrus said. “Biotech companies from around the entire country are hiring the Solano students before they can actually even graduate.”

Since the California Biomanufacturing Center formally debuted in October, Burrus reports seeing strong interest from biotech companies. “I have been providing tours of the city and the production sites at least once per month,” he said. “We have two companies right now that are very, very promising. I think we might be making announcements here in the next few months.”