Jackson Lab expanding as sales rise

Posted Aug. 05, 2009, at 9:15 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — Citing figures they say demonstrate that The Jackson Laboratory is emerging from the economic slump, lab officials broke ground Wednesday for a building expected to help the lab expand one of its more profitable products.

The importation isolation building, which is being funded in part by a $4.7 million grant from the taxpayer-supported Maine Technology Asset Fund, will provide space for many of the lab’s reproductive services. The grant is paying for half of the building’s construction; the lab is funding the rest, lab officials said.

Charles Hewett, Jackson Lab’s chief operating officer, said the lab’s mouse sales have recovered since the global economy went into a tailspin last fall. Besides conducting its own research on human disease and medical conditions, the lab breeds millions of mice each year that it ships to other research laboratories around the world.

Hewett said that since June 1, the lab’s revenue from reproductive services is 7 percent ahead of where it was this time last year. This has helped restore work hours for lab employees whose hours were cut last fall as a way to reduce operating costs, he said.

“That is a very promising sign,” Hewett said. “All of our employees are back to a 40-hour workweek, and we’re very excited about that.”

The lab laid off 55 employees in March because of the poor economy, but with more than 1,300 employees it remains Hancock County’s largest employer and one of the largest in eastern Maine.

May was the best month ever for the lab’s reproductive services revenue — more than $700,000, he said. By next year, he said, such revenues are expected to have grown overall by another 20 percent.

Rob Taft, the lab’s director of reproductive services, said that over the past three to five years, since the lab began in earnest to offer such services to other laboratories and scientists, Jackson Lab has brought in more than $7 million to the state.

Aside from the $4.7 million going toward the new building, the Maine Technology Asset Fund has awarded the lab another $2.1 million to renovate some of the lab’s mouse facilities so they meet scientific standards, according to Jill Goldthwait, the lab’s director of government relations.

Hewett, Rick Woychik, the lab’s president and CEO, and a handful of other officials donned hard hats and wielded gold-painted shovels as they dug soil in a work area that already has been cleared and fenced off.

About 100 employees are expected to work in the new building, but not all of those will be new hires, according to lab officials. The building is expected to include space for cryopreservation storage, lab and support areas, mouse distribution facilities and a personnel locker room.

The three-story, 22,500-square-foot building is being constructed by Consigli Construction Co. of Portland. Located next to the lab’s new information technology building on its Route 3 campus, the facility is expected to be completed by November 2010 and operational by the next spring, lab officials said.

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