In Conversation: Sarah Miller, Vice President of Economic Development, BioHealth Innovation, Inc.

After spending the past five years fostering economic development in Montgomery County, Sarah Miller is turning her attention to the biopharma industry and the BioHealth Capital Region. Starting May 3, Miller joined BioHealth Innovation, Inc. as Vice President of Economic Development.

Miller transitions to BHI from her previous role as Vice President of Strategy for the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation (MCEDC). In her new role, Miller will solely focus on economic development opportunities within the biopharma industry across Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. A laser-like focus on one industry will be new to Miller. She is no stranger to it, having worked in Montgomery County for the past several years. In her role with the MCEDC, Miller has worked with the development of the Germantown Innovation Center on the campus of Montgomery College campus in Germantown.

Miller is a graduate of Ohio University, where she studied community health. She later earned a master’s degree from Carnegie Mellon University in Public Policy & Management, focusing on economic development.  With her educational background in community health, Miller said she feels like her life has come full circle with her new role at BHI.

Throughout her career, Miller has worked in various aspects of economic development. In Pennsylvania, she was Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. There, she worked on multiple community and economic development projects, including the Riverfront Park development that is transforming Pittsburgh. She has also overseen the development of public gardens, roadways, and various other construction projects. But now, she’s ready to tackle bio.

“The focused opportunity on biohealth will be really interesting, especially when you look at it from a regional perspective,” she said.

Looking at the landscape of Maryland and the surrounding region, Miller said the roots for the growth of the life sciences ecosystem in the BioHealth Capital Region were laid years ago. Nothing grows overnight, and the foundations for the robust ecosystem in the region were put in place by economic developers who had the foresight to bet on bio.  

“We’re transitioning into a place where life sciences, computational biology, and other industries are merging, and that is because of things that were done more than 30 years ago,” Miller said. “We have to be patient and understand that. It just doesn’t happen.”

Miller likened economic development to organic farming. She said each year organic farmers focus on soil improvement in order to produce strong, robust crops that can continue to thrive over multiple planting seasons. It’s a longer-term goal than using fertilizer, she said.

“We are seeing in real-time the evolution and the growth and strengthening of this industry,” she said.

During her tenure with MCEDC, Miller got to know Rich Bendis, President and Chief Executive Officer of BHI, and the goals of the organization, as well as other key players within the industry. She said going to work at BHI will be akin to moving to another division in economic development.

Miller noted she might not know all the biotech CEOs by name or sight, but she knows the economic development partners. She’s also well-versed in what Bendis and BHI have accomplished in growing the BioHealth Capital Region into a top-five biopharma hub in the United States. And that growth is expected to continue with increasing manufacturing capabilities and the planned pandemic prevention and biotech defense center.

“I’m well-versed in the economic realities of what can be accomplished,” Miller said. “My job is not to know all the ins and outs of the research, but to take a look at where they want to be economically and how to achieve that.”

As Miller steps into her new role, she plans to hit the ground running and has several short-term goals she wants to accomplish. The bulk of her recent work has been limited to Montgomery County, so she wants to become more aware of the other parts of the region. As COVID-19 vaccinations increase and things open up more, Miller said she plans to talk with the leaders of the biotech company so she can know them and have a greater understanding of what they do.

“I’m really looking forward to this opportunity. It’s a unique and complex industry that is in a place of prominence because of COVID,” Miller said. “I’m impressed by this community of bio leaders we have. They’re showing a lot of great leadership not just saving lives with their products, but within the business ecosystem as well.”