Jackson Laboratory announces expansion plans to Sarasota, Fla.

Posted March 02, 2011, at 12:02 p.m.
Last modified March 02, 2011, at 5:10 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — The Jackson Laboratory has plans to expand to Sarasota County, Fla., where it hopes a new personalized medicine research facility will become a central part of a broader biomedical research community, lab officials announced Wednesday morning.

Lab officials indicated in a prepared statement that the growth in the next two decades of such a biomedical research community in Sarasota and Tampa could create as many as 2,200 new jobs in the region, not just with Jackson Lab but among multiple employers, and could contribute $600 million per year to the local economy.

The Bar Harbor-based lab’s latest plan for Florida suggests that lab officials believe they have found a better location than Collier County for its expansion plans. Jackson Lab announced in 2009 it would open a new facility in Collier County, near Naples. In July 2010, the lab indicated it had found a partner on the project with University of South Florida.

But this past January, after critics made an issue out of $130 million that Collier County was expected to contribute to the project, Jackson Lab officials said they were looking elsewhere in the Sunshine State for their possible expansion. At the same time, Jackson Lab officials withdrew an application for up to $50 million in state funding that would have gone toward the Collier County project and said they wanted to work with new Florida Gov. Rick Scott to make sure their expansion plans were consistent with his economic development plans for the state.

Later in January, Jackson Lab and University of South Florida announced they were considering Hillsborough and Sarasota counties as possible locations for the personalized medicine research facility. University of South Florida’s main campus is in Tampa, which is located in Hillsborough County.

Wednesday’s announcement indicates that the lab will expand to a 120,000-square-foot facility in Sarasota County, where it hopes to develop genetics-based treatments for heart disease, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. Jackson Lab also plans to have lab researchers and administrators working at the University of South Florida health complex in Tampa, according to lab officials.

Joyce Peterson, spokeswoman for the lab, said Wednesday that the lab’s partnership with University of South Florida is what makes the Sarasota and Tampa areas appealing for the lab’s expansion.

“That is where they are based,” Peterson said of the university’s location in Tampa. “They are an ideal partner because of their medical school and clinical program.”

According to information posted on the USF website, the university is one of only 25 public research universities nationwide with very high research activity that is also designated as community engaged by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Other potential partners in the project include Sarasota Memorial Healthcare System, Sarasota County and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, according to lab officials. They said in the statement that Gulf Coast Community Foundation and other community agencies “will spearhead the creation of a major biomedical village, including research, clinical medicine, education, and residential and retail activity, that will grow up around the new Jackson facility.”

Lab officials said that Sarasota County officials plan to seek voter approval for the necessary investment of county funds and that a referendum could be held as early as July of this year. If the public funding is approved, construction could begin within a year after the vote, they said.  The Jackson Laboratory–Florida would begin operations in temporary facilities immediately after funding is secured, they added.

Peterson said that how much money Sarasota County officials will ask voters to contribute to the project has not been determined.

How many people Jackson Lab hopes to employ directly in Florida also was unclear Wednesday. Peterson said that number likely would depend on how much money Jackson Lab might get for the project from Sarasota County and Florida state economic development programs. Lab officials had indicated that, in Collier County, they could have employed as many as 200 people at their facility.  

“We need buy-in from the governor and the state of Florida to make this work,” Peterson said. “That’s always been an important piece.”

Peterson said that, like the Collier County proposal, Jackson Lab’s expansion to Sarasota County is not expected to have any effect on the lab’s continuing growth in Bar Harbor. She said the lab currently has 27 positions to fill in Bar Harbor and, within the next five years or so, expects to have added approximately 200 jobs at its Bar Harbor campus.

The nonprofit Jackson Lab, which had $166 million in operating revenue in 2010, is known internationally for its use of mice to research human disease and medical conditions. Each year, it produces millions of specially bred laboratory mice that are used in similar studies all over the world.

The lab was founded in 1929 and employs more than 100 people at a secondary site in Sacramento, Calif. With more than 1,200 employees at its Bar Harbor campus, Jackson Lab is the largest employer in eastern Maine.

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