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CAMBRIDGE, MA-Tightening lab space and rising rents are pushing smaller biotech firms into the suburbs as companies look for cheaper alternatives to Cambridge’s costlier biotech core. “Top quality life science space in the suburbs is a constant at this point and it’s going to continue to emerge and evolve,” Robert Richards, president of Richards Barry Joyce & Partners, tells GlobeSt.com. He notes that Boston’s suburbs have become crucial locations for smaller life science firms.

In the past six months alone, says Richards, 108,000 sf out of 3.8 million sf of laboratory space primarily in Lexington, Waltham, Woburn and Bedford has been leased to life science firms, reducing the vacancy rate in the suburban market to 20.9% from $23.8%.

Mary Kelly, chief research officer for Meredith & Grew, tells GlobeSt.com that currently, less than 9% of Cambridge’s 7.8 million sf of lab space is available for lease at rents in the $50-per-sf range. Suburban lab space usually rents for about $30 per sf.

“As rents push up in Cambridge, you’ll see more firms looking toward the suburbs, particularly for incubation space, which is almost non-existent in Cambridge,” she says. “For smaller-size tenants, the suburbs are going to be more plausible rent-wise.”

Also a significant factor in the move to the suburbs, says Richards, is the changing demographics of the work force. “As these companies are maturing and executives are living in the suburbs, there’s much more of an attraction to being near home,” he notes.

As lab space in the city continues to tighten, suburban landlords left with vacancies from the high tech bust also are going to be more amenable to converting space for life science use, opening even more space up to life science firms, Kelly says.

Yet while the developing trend may pull more firms away from Cambridge’s biotech epicenter, the city, says Richards, will still remain the core of the booming industry.

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