Jackson Lab plans Florida branch

Posted April 09, 2010, at 8:26 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:45 a.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Maine’s largest biomedical research institution is planning to open its first out-of-state research branch if it wins enough public funding in Florida.

The Jackson Laboratory, which is based in Bar Harbor and specializes in mouse genetics, has been in talks about building a 145,000-square-foot research center in southwest Florida where scientists would apply genetic research toward human health problems.

Jackson Lab trustees could decide by the end of summer whether to proceed if the Florida Legislature and the county government agree to spend more than $200 million.

Tentatively called The Jackson Genomics Institute, the center would be in Collier County, Fla., outside of Naples, said Mike Hyde, Jackson’s vice president for advancement. The goal of the institute is to apply scientists’ extensive research directly to the treatment of human diseases.

“It is very futuristic, and we’re not certain today where it will go,” he said. “But we know the implications are enormous, and it’s a part of the scientific world we want to understand.”

If plans fall into place, the institute would employ about 200 people over the first five years and grow to up to 300 employees over 10 years. In time, it could act as a magnet and draw a medical school, a teaching hospital and biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies with between 7,000 and 8,000 employees.

Some people are asking why the facility can’t be located in Maine.

Florida was chosen because of the availability of public funding, the state’s commitment to growing its biomedical community and the proximity of other research institutes, Hyde said.

Florida lawmakers are considering three budget scenarios that call for $100 million to $130 million going toward the development over three years. If that funding is approved, Collier County officials would have to approve matching funds for the project, he said. The Jackson Laboratory also would have to embark on a private fundraising campaign to raise an additional $120 million over 10 years.

The governor’s office said Maine can’t match the financial incentives being offered by Florida.

Maine would have liked to have the jobs that would be created in Florida, said David Farmer, spokesman for Gov. John Baldacci. But Florida’s budget and population dwarf those of Maine — meaning Maine simply can’t offer the same incentives, he said.

“We just don’t have the scale to do the same types of things Florida does,” Farmer said. “They’re a much bigger state, and it’s a much different circumstance there than it is here.”

The Jackson Laboratory still has plans to grow in Maine, Hyde said. It now has about 1,200 employees in Maine and an additional 94 employees at its mouse distribution and services facility in Sacramento, Calif.

“The mother ship will stay in Maine,” Hyde said. “We believe this infusion of capital in Florida will make it possible for us to hit our growth targets in Maine.”

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