December 11, 2018
Opinion Latest News | Joyce McLain | Ranked-Choice Voting | Anthony Cipolle | Today's Paper

‘Yes’ votes on Question 4, 5 offer Maine the chance to be a scientific leader

Francoise Gervais | The Jackson Laboratory
Francoise Gervais | The Jackson Laboratory
Carol Bult Ph.D., co-director of The Jackson Laboratory Cancer Center, dissects a mouse in this file photo.

It is no secret that many of Maine’s educated young people leave the state to pursue greater opportunities and find success elsewhere.

Despite Maine’s attractive communities, desirable quality of life and considerable commitment to education, too many promising Maine students end up becoming another state’s prosperous citizens.

The recently announced closing of the Verso Mill in Bucksport is a sobering reminder of the vulnerability of jobs in Maine’s traditional industries.

To reverse this trend, it also is no secret that Maine needs actively to cultivate an economy that builds on Maine’s proven work ethic and capitalizes on quickly changing skills and technology.

Less known is that Maine already has established core institutions prepared to realize this ambition and that, right now, are poised to be world leaders in scientific research.

Questions 4 and 5 on the November ballot aim to boost this effort.

One of Maine’s largest established employers, the Jackson Laboratory, is expanding operations into Connecticut, California and Singapore. Other states, recognizing the Jackson Laboratory’s stature, have courted their expansion with hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds.

Fortunately, assuming they can grow local capacity in support of this global strategy, the Jackson Laboratory remains committed to its core mission of genomic medicine and cancer research in Maine.

Annually contributing $93 million in payroll and $380 million in economic activity, the Jackson Laboratory truly is an economic engine for Maine.

In complement, with a culture that more resembles an agile and accelerating start-up, the MDI Biological Laboratory has had success bootstrapping scarce public funds with competitive partnerships on the vanguard of research on regenerative medicine and tissue repair.

Over the past 14 years, the MDI Biological Laboratory has secured $68 million in federal funds providing statewide educational opportunities and residencies for more than 2,000 students from 12 public and private Maine colleges and research institutions.

This past year, after launching its first pharmaceutical spin-off, MDI Biological Laboratory secured another $13 million award to expand its research into regenerative medicine with specific applications in curing heart disease. This award commits the MDI Biological Laboratory to expand its research facilities, staff and educational mission.

These laboratories are poised for growth on the world economic stage and are seeking ways to leverage their funding. In their ongoing partnership with Maine’s colleges, these institutions represent our best opportunity to educate and retain a new generation of bright, ambitious and prosperous Maine citizens.

This past year, the Legislature’s bipartisan Committee on Workforce and Economic Development thoroughly considered what targeted investments could return the greatest public benefit for our state and its young people.

Building on recommendations of years of economic studies, the committee evaluated dozens of education, research, and development projects based on their alignment with state goals, experience and accountability, leverage of private and federal funds, direct return of created jobs, and indirect benefits spread via economic multipliers.

Proposals for facility expansion from both the MDI Biological Laboratory and the the Jackson Laboratory rose convincingly to the top of the committee’s scoring. These institutions were eager to compete for funds and to adhere to strict measures ensuring performance. Both institutions have a record of success providing returns on previous state investments as high as 19 to 1.

Passed by the Legislature with bipartisan support and signed by the Gov. Paul LePage, the conclusion of the committee’s painstaking work is the bond package that voters will consider in November.

Referendum Question 4 proposes a $10 million bond matched by $11 million in support of a facility to research genetic solutions for cancer and the diseases of aging. Question 5 proposes a $3 million bond matched by $5.7 million to expand workforce training and speed drug discovery.

As legislators from both sides of the aisle who have been closely involved with this process, we believe that this bond package represents some of our best work from a session that too often was marked by partisan disputes.

In these bonds, we hope that voters will recognize this extraordinary opportunity for Maine to become a global leader in life sciences and medical research. Please join us in support of a bright future for Maine’s next generation.

Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, serves on both the Legislature’s Select Committee on Workforce and Economic Development and the Education Committee. He represents Hancock County. Rep. Brian Hubbell, D-Bar Harbor, also serves on the Education Committee and chairs the Legislature’s commission on school funding.

 


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