Here are America’s best life science industries (if you’re in Ohio, brace for bad news)

Cleveland did not make the list of the top life science cities in the United States. The study authors called the Cleveland area a “second tier” city alongside the Pittsburghs and St. Louises.

ATLANTA, Georgia — We’ll get this over with quick. Milken Institute has released what amounts to a ranking of America’s Top Life Science Cities. Here it is.

  1. Boston
  2. Greater Philadelphia
  3. Greater San Francisco
  4. Greater New York
  5. Greater Raleigh-Durham
  6. Greater Los Angeles
  7. Chicago
  8. San Diego
  9. Minneapolis
  10. Washington, D.C.
  11. Seattle

Greater Cleveland, it turns out, wasn’t even close.

“These metro areas are clearly ahead of the next tier of cities, which is where you see the Pittsburghs, Clevelands, the St. Louises,” said Ross DeVol, director of regional economics at the Milken Institute. “These (11) are the top life science clusters in the country.”

“You have to be honest as you evaluate where strengths lie,” De Vol said of Cleveland. “The Cleveland Clinicis a world leader. But Cleveland is not going to be a leading center for pharma. You’ve got to understand where to place your bets and be strategic about it. The Cleveland Clinic has been much more involved in commercialization in recent years. You have a strong medical device area.”

The study (pdf) was actually commissioned by Philadelphia’s regional biotech business community to measure that city against the other top 10 life science cities in the country (report sponsors include Select Greater Philadelphia, BioNJ, Delaware BioScience Association, Greater Philadelphia Life Sciences Congress and Pennsylvania Bio). But the ranking that comes out of the report stands as Milken’s overall view of life science cities in the United States.

The Institute used 60 different criteria to create its list from data as recent as 2007 and measuring trends from 2002-2007. It examined, among other things, how well a region brings research to the marketplace; how well it creates companies, jobs and products; the quality and concentration of its life science work force; the mix between established and start-up companies; and an area’s ability to create new entrepreneurial firms.

The Cleveland area can match some of the top life science cities in some ways. It’s had more venture investment in more companies (pdf) in each of the past two years than Chicago, for example. But Cleveland can’t match the deal-flow in cities like San Francisco, Boston or Seattle.

Boston had the highest rate of accepted proposals for National Science Foundation funding (27 percent) than any city, while Greater Raleigh-Durham employment from 2002 and 2007 was 14 percent above the national average, according to the study.

Even though the Ohio Third Frontier and Ohio Capital Fund programs have helped the state’s life science industry, many states have similar programs.

And Cleveland lacks a signature medical giant, like Medtronic of Minneapolis.

“There’s nothing on this list I can disagree with because their industries are large,” said Baiju Shah, president of BioEnterprise, Cleveland’s life-science support organization. “For us to accelerate so we’re in the top, we need to stay focused on building the cluster.”

Shah said Cleveland may be undervalued because reports like these do a better job of quantifying the impact of biotech and pharmaceutical companies than medical devices and health-care services, which are Cleveland’s strength.

“We need to keep putting up results,” he said. “The only way to keep building industries is to keep starting companies and get big wins that create the signature industries.”

[Front-page photo courtesy of Flickr user Paul Keleher]