With more than 6,000 jobs created or promised, a public agency promoting life sciences is touting its initial success as it seeks continued support amid Beacon Hill budget woes.

With more than 6,000 jobs created or promised, a public agency promoting life sciences is touting its initial success as it seeks continued support amid Beacon Hill budget woes.


While the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center in Waltham has the support of local lawmakers and a track record upon which to lean, agency leaders still worry their funding could run dry without a new government infusion, grinding their fledgling efforts to a halt and potentially providing an opening to competing states.


"We're living almost this dual life," Chief Operating Officer Melissa Walsh said during a meeting with MetroWest Daily News editors Tuesday, describing how her agency only has enough money left to last through next spring. "It's almost an identity crisis for us on any given day."


Created by the Legislature in 2006, the center helped establish a stem cell bank and registry in Shrewsbury run by UMass' medical school, which it hopes will become a global storage and distribution hub. Now composed of nine employees, it has been charged with implementing Gov. Deval Patrick's 10-year, $1 billion plan to develop the life sciences sector.


Consulting with unpaid advisers working under strict conflict-of-interest rules, the agency picks promising researchers and startups to support, as well as existing firms looking to expand. It provides grants, loans and tax incentives, and arranges and funds college internships.


The center has invested half its money outside Route 128, with more than 4,000 construction jobs and nearly 2,500 permanent positions created or projected.


Westborough's Wadsworth Medical Technologies received a $400,000 loan to develop a method for closing wounds without sutures or anesthesia, while companies in Framingham, Ashland, Holliston, Hopkinton, Marlborough, Natick and Waltham also have benefited.


Besides $250 million in tax incentives, Patrick's plan sets aside $500 million for construction projects, with the goal of developing needed infrastructure to attract firms or facilitate growth.


While $300 million is earmarked by legislators, Walsh and her colleagues say the projects all appear to have merit but are not necessarily shovel-ready -- the rest is left to the center's discretion.


One earmark that has come to fruition is a $12.9 million sewer project at Framingham Technology Park, allowing Genzyme Corp. to expand its operations there rather than looking at other states by adding at least 300 local jobs.


"It's really an investment we're proud of," said Susan Windham-Bannister, CEO and president of the life sciences center.


With $187 million in spending, the center has spurred $704 million in investments from the federal government, private investors, firms and foundations, Bannister said.


Not only do life sciences jobs pay above-average salaries, Bannister said, but a range of positions are available, not just lab posts. Plus, she said, each life sciences job has been shown to lead to the creation of three to five others.


The catch, Bannister said, is that funding for the center and its programs -- the third, $250 million leg in Patrick's plan -- is dependent on leftover money from the previous state budget.


And while the agency was supposed to receive $25 million each year, it got $15 million a year ago and $10 million this year. Patrick has asked for $10 million in the next budget, but the Legislature has not yet made a decision.


"We're pounding the pavement," Walsh said. "We're in the State House constantly."


Ashland Sen. Karen Spilka, the Democratic chairwoman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, said Tuesday that Bannister's agency has done a good job. While state finances dictate reduced support for programs, she said she is advocating for the center's $10 million.


"We have to cut back on the money we put into economic development, but we can't cut it out," Spilka said.


MetroWest Daily News writer Michael Morton can be reached at mmorton@cnc.com or 508-626-4338.