Jackson Laboratory vital to Down East prosperity

By Rick Woychik, Special to the BDN
Posted March 27, 2009, at 7:40 p.m.

While Maine’s economy, like the world economy, has slowed, the ravages of disease have not. That’s why it is imperative that biomedical research at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor endures, even in tough economic times. It’s not only essential to good health, but it’s also vital to the economy of Down East Maine.

Over 80 years, the laboratory has evolved into one of the world’s largest genetics research centers. Our mission is to discover the genetic basis for preventing, treating and curing human disease. Our research innovations and resources are helping the global biomedical community find solutions for cancer and other complex and intractable diseases.

The Jackson Laboratory, like other elements of Maine’s economy, hasn’t been immune from the economic fallout of the current global recession. Although we recently — and very reluctantly — reduced our Bar Harbor work force by 55 positions in response to an anemic global economy, The Jackson Laboratory remains Hancock County’s largest employer by far. With our current employee head count at 1,244, the number of jobs we provide on our Bar Harbor campus is greater than the populations of more than 300 Maine communities. We now mail paychecks to 72 ZIP codes in Maine, and our staff comes to work each day from 12 of Maine’s 16 counties.

With a current annual budget of $169 million, the average wage at The Jackson Lab is now $49,662. When you add the value of our extensive employee benefits program, that amount jumps to $67,375. In a state where the minimum wage is now $7.25 an hour, we offer high school graduates entry-level positions that pay at least $10.25 an hour, not including benefits.

Beyond putting money in our employees’ pockets, The Jackson Laboratory remains a major economic driver for the Down East region and for the entire state. As one of New England’s largest technology employers, 93 percent of our $160 million in revenues in 2007 came from out of state, while 85 percent — $136 million — was spent within Maine.

During a recent 16-month period, the lab did business with 740 Maine vendors, including 260 from Hancock County and 150 from Penobscot County. By one economist’s estimate, the lab’s presence in Bar Harbor generates 2,342 indirect jobs throughout the state. Our educational and training courses and conferences also attract visitors from around the world who collectively spend an estimated $300,000 a year while staying in Bar Harbor.

What’s ahead for The Jackson Laboratory? Acquiring a greater grasp of how the dynamic complexities of genetics, physiology and the environment underlie human health and disease. Understanding these factors is the key to a future of personalized medicine, an era in which the basis for preventing, treating and curing disease is grounded in insights into the unique genetic makeup of each individual person.

On July 31, the laboratory will be exploring the enormous clinical implications of individualized medicine when it hosts a major symposium on the future of genetic medicine. This event will bring to Bar Harbor two Nobel laureates — Richard Axel and Mario Capecchi — and dozens of other world-renowned research scientists and science policy experts, allowing them to exchange information and insights. Award-winning science journalist Joe Palca of National Public Radio will moderate the symposium’s panel discussions. We invite you to join us for an intriguing look ahead at the future of genetics and personalized medicine.

Rick Woychik, Ph.D., is president and CEO of The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor. For more information, visit www.jax.org.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/03/27/opinion/jackson-laboratory-vital-to-down-east-prosperity/ printed on July 11, 2014