We can, and must, keep lab’s expansion in Maine

Posted May 04, 2010, at 8:43 p.m.

I take issue with the attitude in the recent editorial “Jackson Labs and Maine” (BDN, April 24) stating that the idea that Maine should have done more to encourage Jackson Laboratory to expand in Maine rather than Florida is “simplistic.”

This type of attitude cannot be tolerated in our state. We have lost 34,000 jobs in the past decade. We must fight for every job that we can create in Maine. Our state should have done more to encourage The Jackson Laboratory to expand in Maine rather than Florida.

Some say that targeting business incentives to create jobs in Maine is picking winners and losers with state funds. The state of Maine picks winners and losers all the time.

Last year, we spent most of the federal stimulus funding and depleted our rainy day fund to balance the state budget and fund programs that will end up being cut anyway. A bloated state government, which leaves Maine second only to California in welfare benefits per capita, was the winner. A future Maine that could attract world-class biomedical clusters and thousands of high tech jobs was the loser.

We are spending $17 million to purchase 233 miles of track on the railway from Millinocket to Madawaska, knowing that there is $19 million of deferred maintenance on that rail that someone — the taxpayers? — is going to have to pay for. We could service the 22 companies that use that stretch of track to ship goods using our trucking industry rather than buying a failed railroad.

In 2003, we chose to privatize and sell the state’s wholesale liquor business for $125 million over 10 years. Rather than investing that money in Maine’s future we chose to use that money to balance the state budget.

We have spent $155 million on the Dirigo Health program, despite knowing it was a failure.

Some say that the Jackson Laboratory expansion in Florida would create only 200 jobs.

It is not 200 jobs — it is 7,000 jobs. It is a 10-year project where Jackson Laboratory is the centerpiece of a biomedical cluster expected to employ researchers from some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. Jackson Laboratory’s ability to grow mice is the key to the other 7,000 jobs related to the project.

It is a long-range economic development effort to transition Collier County in Florida from an economy dependent on tourism and agriculture to a highly technological work force.

With our political leaders saying Maine can’t possibly compete, who can blame Jackson Laboratory for looking elsewhere?

I say we have what it takes to host the Jackson Laboratory expansion plans here in Maine instead of Florida.

We have available industrial assets here in Maine. The Naval Air Station Brunswick property has 3,300 acres of prime real estate; over 2 million square feet of commercial and industrial space; over 1,500 acres of green space and a world-class aviation complex. There are empty mill complexes and industrial sites throughout Maine that could have been considered.

In Brewer, there is an available site adjacent to the Eastern Maine Medical Center headquarters and the Lafayette Family Cancer Center — located near other research institutes as well as universities for collaboration opportunities.

Wouldn’t it be great if York County and Penobscot County were the ones competing against each other for this project rather than the state of Florida against no one?

Ultimately, this discussion is bigger than Jackson Laboratory. It is about a state government that must be aggressive in diversifying its economy by being intelligent with the choices it makes when targeting expenditures.

Maine cannot afford a government that throws its hands up and doesn’t even try to create jobs and opportunity for its residents. Maine needs to be able to play. We can find the incentives to compete in the global marketplace and we can create the jobs we need to make Maine great again.

Les Otten is president of Maine Energy Systems in Bethel and a Republican candidate for governor.

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