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In 'Pharm Country,' Salaries Inch up, As Do Job Openings

Guardedly optimistic: the outlook for the biopharma sector in New Jersey and the major metropolitan area.

Drive around the Garden State and one may be tempted to create a guided tour of former pharmaceutical headquarters. Names such as Warner-Lambert, Wyeth, Pharmacia, and Schering-Plough, for instance, have disappeared amid megamergers and, along with them, thousands of jobs that cut across every division and employment level.

Just the same, there is some reason to be optimistic, albeit guardedly. A recent analysis of job openings listed on Biospace, a long-standing industry website, finds that the average salary for biopharma positions in New Jersey has been climbing over the past few years. From 2010 through 2013, it rose 8.8 percent to about $80,000. In Connecticut, however, the average rose 20.6 percent.

And there were 18 applicants for each position, compared with 25 for New York, 22 for Connecticut, and 16 for Pennsylvania. The analysis, by the way, compared openings only in these four states. While the results only tally openings posted on this particular website, the findings, nonetheless, offer a glimpse into trends in the overall job market.

The data points suggest an improving prognosis, although the picture is actually a bit mixed, at least as far as New Jersey is concerned. In this year’s first quarter, biopharma job postings in New York rose 11.5, percent while only 6.8 percent were located in New Jersey, followed by 2.3 percent in Pennsylvania, and 1.1 percent in Connecticut. New Jersey, by the way, accounted for 45 percent of all postings.

But another way to look at this is that the biopharma job market in the four-state region -- which Biospace dubbed "Pharm Country" -- is moving in the right direction. The total number of openings amounted to 21.7 percent of all employer job postings, which means the four-state region was ahead of Massachusetts so far this year and trailed only California.

Of course, the outlook varies depending upon experience and specialty. So far, this year, a pharmaceutical or life sciences professional with less than one year’s experience will get more generous pay in New York, where the average is nearly $48,000. But for professionals with two to four years of experience, the highest average salary can be found in New Jersey, where that pay totals $55,000.

Wondering which job postings indicated the largest salary gains? Pay for a third-level research associate was up nearly 42 percent and fourth-level scientists saw a 40 percent hike. But medical doctors experienced a 16.2 percent decline from 2010, and programmer pay declined 20 percent, even though healthcare information technology remains a growing field.

Overall, though, salaries in New Jersey have largely remained flat when looked at through the prism of years of experience. The average salary someone with 15 years or more experience continued to hover around $110,000 from 2010 to 2013. Similarly, the average salary for those with five to nine years of experience remained around $75,000. For those with 10 to 14 years of experience, the salary was about $90,000. However, if one looks to nearby states, the pay is higher. This year, professionals with five to nine years of experience will find the highest average salary in Pennsylvania, nearly $73,000. Those with 10 to 14 years of experience will find the best pay in Connecticut, at $106,000. And those with 15 or more years of experience will earn the most, on average, in Connecticut -- $120,400.

Ed Silverman is the founder and editor of the Pharmalot website, which tracks the pharmaceutical industry.

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