Protesting a plan to help The Jackson Laboratory build a genetic research facility near the city of Naples, some Floridians this week told Collier County commissioners that they should “keep the mouse moochers in Maine.”
According to a report in the Naples Daily News, commissioners heard complaints Tuesday over a proposal to allocate as much as $130 million in new county taxpayer dollars to woo the Maine-based nonprofit research facility to the area. The commissioners are considering raising the money over a 15- to 20-year period to match a three-year, $130 million incentive payment from the state budget for the project.
The Florida Legislature earlier this year approved a $50 million down payment from the state budget. Additional state funding would require future legislative approval.
A spokeswoman for The Jackson Laboratory said Thursday that the protest at the county public forum was nothing unexpected.
“There were about 50 paid protesters from a for-profit company,” said Joyce Peterson, director of communications at the lab. There were three others who spoke against the project, including one person who is a candidate for the board of commissioners, she said. And there were about a half-dozen others who spoke in favor of the project.
“We ultimately believe the Collier County public will see the value of this project in terms of both the economic development potential and the research that will come out of the institute to improve human health,” Peterson said.
Some who spoke in opposition at the public forum characterized the project as a bailout for Barron Collier, a local land development company that has agreed to donate 50 acres to the Jackson Lab project. Others, including about 50 employees of Arthrex, a local medical devices company, said the state should invest in area busi-nesses before trying to attract new companies from outside the area.
The Naples Daily News reported that the Arthrex workers had been granted paid time to express their personal views of the project at the forum.
Some at the meeting called for a county voter referendum on the $130 million allocation. Some protesters carried signs that read “no Barron Collier bailouts” and “keep the mouse moochers in Maine,” according to the news story.
Reinhold Schmieding, president and founder Arthrex, said earlier in the week that he would seek out-of-state bids for an expansion of the company’s manufacturing capacity, according to the paper. The commissioners’ interest in wooing The Jackson Laboratory to the area has undermined his commitment to expand in Collier County, he said.
The commissioners must decide by July 27, when the county tax rate will be set for next year, whether or not to go forward with raising taxes.
Peterson said Thursday that Collier County officials initiated discussion of the proposed research facility in an effort to spur economic growth in the region.
The lab, she said, remains confident that the county funding will be approved and the project will go forward.
Headquartered in Bar Harbor, The Jackson Laboratory is one of the largest producers in the world of genetically altered mice for research purposes. It also is home to a mammalian genetics research program that attracts scientists and students from around the globe.
The Jackson Laboratory employs about 1,200 people at its Bar Harbor home. The lab has said it has no plans to leave Maine and expects to add another 200 people to its payroll here within the next decade. There are currently 30 job openings at the Bar Harbor site.
Lab officials have indicated that if the project in Florida goes forward, it will employ approximately 200 people within the next several years. One economic study has estimated that the project could form the centerpiece of a large-scale research park and the eventual creation of 7,000 biotechnology-related jobs in the region.
In 2001, The Jackson Laboratory opened its first satellite facility in Sacramento, Calif., where it now employs 102 people.
Bangor Daily News writer Bill Trotter contributed to this report.