June 25, 2018
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600 Jackson Lab jobs in Connecticut; why not Maine?

Bridget Brown | BDN
Bridget Brown | BDN
The Jackson Laboratory on Mount Desert Island is seen in an aerial photo taken in 2009.

The Jackson Laboratory is planning a massive new research center in Connecticut that will provide 600 new jobs. The question naturally arises: why not in Maine?

The quick answer, supplied by both the Jackson Lab and the office of Maine’s Gov. Paul LePage, is that Maine lacks the medical research facilities essential to the new project. In Connecticut, the new Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine would be located next to the campus of the University of Connecticut in Farmington, with its medical school. Yale University, a half-hour away, would be an active partner. But there’s more to the story.

First, the money. Connecticut would supply $291 million over 10 years, an additional $10 million a year for collaboration with Connecticut institutions, land for the new lab and full funding for 10 faculty positions and support staff for at least 10 years. Maine has no such resources available.

Next, the work force. No problem in Connecticut. Gov. LePage’s spokesperson, Adrienne Bennett, said Maine employers have repeatedly complained that job applicants are “unskilled, uneducated, and unqualified.” She said, “We are not training our young people for jobs that are available,” adding that many are unfit for jobs in machinery operation, information technology and manufacturing.

The governor has been meeting with community college and university officials to urge better training for available jobs. He also has visited Jackson Lab to find additional ways the state can help its expansion.

The new lab in Connecticut will help Maine, too. Jackson Laboratory’s Bar Harbor campus is the largest employer in Hancock County and already has more than 1,200 workers. Work on the human genome will complement and increase Jackson Laboratory’s work in Bar Harbor, where the staff will continue to develop research tools to study the function and mechanism of human disease.

JAX, as it is commonly called, plans a major research expansion, recruiting at least 10 new faculty members in the next five years and creating dozens of additional scientific, technical and administrative jobs, according to spokesperson Joyce Peterson. She said the Bar Harbor lab has added 190 jobs in the past 20 months.

Creation of JAX-West in Sacramento in 2000 led some to fear that California would be the beginning of the end for JAX in Maine. Far from it. Ms. Peterson said the lab in Bar Harbor has created three times as many jobs as the California lab in the past decade.

The lab in Bar Harbor now has 28 jobs posted, for education levels ranging from high school diploma to Ph.D. It provides jobs for people living throughout Maine, issuing paychecks to 57 ZIP codes in nine of Maine’s 16 counties, she said.

All of this suggests a puzzle: How does Jackson Lab in Bar Harbor keeps finding skilled workers to fill new positions while other Maine employers say they can’t find job applicants with necessary skills? Ms. Bennett says the governor has heard from companies, most recently Idexx Laboratories, a pet health care firm in Westbrook, that they have had to recruit from out of state to get skilled workers.

JAX also has trouble filling skilled jobs, says Ms. Peterson and often relocates new employees, trains them and pays for continuing education. It had 75 openings as of Sept. 30, but provides good benefits and salaries and stable year-round jobs.

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