In addition to our new cleantech blog series, we will be shining light on some of the Bay Area’s most knowledgeable experts in the life sciences industry. They will be sharing their personal stories, the challenges most life science companies overcome, and their visions for the future.

To start things off, we sat down with Michael Howaldt, Senior Vice President Biopharma Operations and Fremont Site Head of Boehringer Ingelheim (BI), one of the top pharmaceutical manufacturers in the world that creates innovative products in pharmaceuticals, animal medicine and biotechnology.

Here’s Michael’s take on life sciences in Fremont and his vision for the industry.

Q: Why did BI first choose Fremont?

BI can be summed up in a single phrase: Value through Innovation. In 2011, we chose Fremont to be the home of our first biotechnology facility in the United States because it’s a city focused on innovative culture. The Bay Area is known as the ‘birthplace of biotech,’ and we felt that positioning ourselves here would foster greater innovation and surround ourselves with intellectual capital like no other.

Q: So, would you say that tax incentives were an important deciding factor when choosing Fremont?

Yes, most definitely. We met with City leaders to discuss the partnership and ensure that we take advantage of the resources Fremont has to offer — tax incentives, assistance with city permits, etc. — to help our business and position it for future growth. Other important aspects were the proximity to Silicon Valley with its innovative and entrepreneurial spirit and the location in the Bay area which is one of the world’s most renowned biotechnology hubs. Since coming to California, state policy makers have taken substantial steps to help protect the biotech industry and manufacturing at large. We see these changes as opportunities for us to grow as a company and for the State of California to foster a more competitive business environment. We can only hope that local and state policy makers continue to create a business friendly environment for BI to operate in.

Q: Because the cost ofdoing business in California is a challenge?

Exactly. Like any company, we have to look at the bottom line. And as an international company, we must be financially diligent to remain competitive. So while California is a wonderful place to live, it’s also extremely expensive with property, sales and income taxes all being higher than in other regions. It’s imperative for businesses to look at the overall costs for both the facility and its employees- each little tax adds up.

Q: Speaking of challenges, what are some of the biggest challenges specific to life sciences companies?

Like many other math and science-based companies, we struggle with the challenge of finding a qualified workforce. We hire folks who have everything from a community college degree to a Ph.D., but it’s still hard to find individuals with skillsets tuned to work in an advanced manufacturing setting. Fortunately, Fremont has a thriving manufacturing workforce (another bonus) with 23 percent of Fremont’s working adults employed in this market.

Q: Would you say the future of life sciences looks promising for other Silicon Valley-based companies?

Yes, I think the future of life sciences definitely looks promising. The world of prescription medicine is changing, and we are moving toward a model of more personalized medicine than products that help the masses. I see the business of biologics growing in the Bay Area and elsewhere as companies create new life-changing products. As long as investors continue to invest in companies, innovation will continue to evolve.

Q: Any closing thoughts looking ahead to 2015?

I think the life sciences industry is ever-changing and will continue to innovate life-saving treatments. There have been breakthrough products that cure diseases that the industry believed couldn’t have been cured. I see the biologics industry growing by leaps and bounds and medicine becoming extremely targeted to help patients. It’s an exciting and rewarding time to be in this field.

Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) Fremont facility on 6701 Kaiser Drive in Fremont.