Fifty years ago, guns were the biggest business in New Haven. Now, education, patient care, and new treatments to improve human health are the engines of the Elm City’s economy. The return of Alexion Pharmaceuticals, born in Science Park two decades ago, to a new home in the city is the latest good vital sign for the future.
Throughout much of the 20th century, the Winchester gun plant in the Dixwell/Newhallville neighborhood — not far from downtown and the Yale campus —topped the list of New Haven’s biggest employers. By the 1980s, it was in sharp decline and many of the old facilities stood empty.
In 1983, Science Park at Yale was created to forge new uses for the abandoned factory buildings and foster new economic development for the region. A gritty outpost for hardy urban biotech pioneers, Science Park struggled through the 1990s to find its footing. One of its successes, however, was Alexion Pharmaceuticals, founded in 1992 by Leonard Bell, then an assistant professor of medicine and pathology at Yale. Alexion outgrew its space and moved to the nearby suburb of Cheshire in 2000.
Since then, New Haven has become the center of a thriving cluster of Yale-generated biotechnology and technology businesses, and Science Park has become a vital part of that renaissance.
Science Park has had millions of dollars in renovation and new construction and is home to an array of biotech companies, as well as to more than 500 Yale University staff members working in business operations, ITS, facilities, and other administrative units. In March, Higher One, a growing New Haven business founded in 2000 by three Yale students, dedicated its new headquarters in Science Park. Now listed on the New York Stock Exchange, Higher One has 240 employees and plans for further growth in New Haven.
In June, Alexion announced its plans to return to New Haven, building a new headquarters at 100 College St. between the Yale medical center and downtown. The company's new home is across from 300 George St., another New Haven building filled with Yale-generated tech businesses and medical research facilities. Alexion today is a global company, with operations in 30 countries. It will open the New Haven headquarters, with 350 employees, by 2015.
Meanwhile, Yale researchers in the School of Medicine, at the West Campus, and on Science Hill are busy creating the next generation of technology companies, making it likely that there will be even more headquarters for tech businesses in New Haven’s future.
From an economy 50 years ago built on weapons of war to an economy driven by education, medical care, and the development of treatments for human disease, New Haven has experienced a major transformation. As the pictures here show, the new economy is not only good for human health, it’s also a boon for the entire community.