Southern comfort

Maine-based Jackson Laboratory may soon be in the position of opening a new facility in Florida

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BAR HARBOR, Maine—Looking to create synergies with both its primary genetics research location in Maine and its much smaller campus in Sacramento, Calif., the Jackson Laboratory has been exploring the possibility of creating a new institute for personalized medicine in Florida. That was a plan that Jackson Lab announced in October 2009, and it's a plan that Florida seems to be taking quite seriously, as state economic development officials there have been working on assembling a package of incentives that would bring Jackson Lab to their state.

The efforts of those officials have thus far led Florida's House of Representatives and Senate to commit $130 million over three years, with $50 million of that earmarked for the fiscal year that starts July 1. That commitment was written into the compromise $69 billion budget that the state House and Senate were, at press time, expected to approve on April 30. The measure would then require the signature of Gov. Charlie Crist.

All this movement has been shaking things up in Maine as well, including in the northern New England state's upcoming gubernatorial elections. Some candidates for the governor's office, particularly Republican Les Otten, have argued that Maine should have fought harder and wooed Jackson Lab to get the company to "stay in Maine."

Of course, what has been lost in the quiet preparations in Florida and some of the more noisy hand-wringing in Maine is that Jackson Lab isn't leaving Maine, but considering an additional location in Florida, ideally in the Collier County city of Naples.

Also getting lost in the noise is the fact that Florida isn't even a done-deal yet, even with the package of incentives that is tentatively in place.

Dr. Rick Woychik, president and CEO of Jackson Laboratory, calls the legislative package for state funding "an important first step" in advancing the expansion project, but notes, "This is still very much a work in progress."

"In the end, it will take not only the legislature coming up with $130 million, but also the county coming up with $130 million in matching funds," he says. Also, he notes, Jackson Lab will be looking to philanthropic groups to come up with between $100 million and $150 million. The money from Florida will aid in that effort.

"If approved by the governor, the final budget will be an essential vote of confidence that will help us attract the institutional partnerships and the matching funds we would need for the project to proceed," says Woychik, who also notes that approval by Jackson Labs' board of trustees will also be required.

In total, Woychik says that around $400 million will be needed in total to put up a building and recruit the best and brightest scientists.

"That's our goal for a 10-year plan that will give us critical mass and allow us to bring around 25 investigators to the location, and staff to support them," he says.

Among the key factors driving Jackson Labs' interest in establishing a personalized medicine institute in Florida is the need to be located in a state that already has other research institutes. Florida has already brought several top names inside its borders with a billion-dollar set of tax breaks, such as branches of the Scripps, Torrey Pines, Burnham and Max Planck research institutes, and it has the necessary network of universities and medical schools for collaboration opportunities in the realm of personalized medicine.

"The thing is, we're not moving to Florida," Woychik says. "We want to establish a branch of Jackson Labs that would be the Jackson Laboratory Florida Institute. The other thing is that while we've only set up broad scientific parameters right now, one of our core aims is that what we would do in Florida would have to be different than what we do in Maine or California. We don't want the new institute competing with us but rather complementing us."

What he seeks are not only different types of activities, but also those that would create synergies capable of creating more work in Bar Harbor and Sacramento. In fact, along with the plans to possibly expand to Florida, Jackson Labs has plans to expand its Maine operation as well, and the Florida institute would not adversely impact those plans even if it does move forward, Woychik asserts.

"Maine is a great place to live, we have a great workforce, and the things that make Maine great allow us to attract talented people," he says. "Jackson Lab would not have succeeded, would not be what it is today, and won't be what it could in the future without those dedicated workers and the very strong support of the state of Maine. Our core operations will remain here."

It is estimated that the Florida institute would employ some 200 people within the first several years of operation. The existing locations of Jackson Lab employ more than five times that number. Since 2002, Jackson Lab has experienced significant expansion, with the total operating budget growing from nearly $104 million in 2002 to $170 million in the current fiscal year. In addition, the workforce has grown from 1,162 employees in 2002 to just over 1,300 employees today—roughly 90 of them in California. Also, during Woychik's time as president and CEO, the organization has built some 118,000 square feet of new research and support space and has renovated 70,000 square feet of space.

Over the next five to 10 years, Jackson Lab plans to add 200 more jobs to the Bar Harbor location, as well as expand from its current roster of 38 research groups to 45 such groups over the next five years or so.

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