Eyes Southern Expansion
ackson Laboratory, an independent, nonprofit biomedical research institution based in Bar Harbor, Maine, is gradually moving toward development of a branch near Naples, Fla. The Florida legislature has voted to approve the state's budget, which includes a $50-million appropriation for the Innovation Incentive Program as part of a three-year commitment of $130 million to establish a branch of The Jackson Laboratory in Collier County. The budget will become final when Governor Charlie Crist signs it into law. Crist is required to sign the budget by 15 days after receiving it, which would be by this Saturday, May 29.
Jackson Lab President and CEO Rick Woychik described Florida state funding as "an important first step" in advancing the development of a branch of The Jackson Laboratory in Florida. He noted that the project will require institutional partnerships, matching funds and approval by the Laboratory's Board of Trustees in order to proceed.
Plans call for a 140,000-sq.-ft. (13,000-sq.-m.) facility on a 50-acre (20-hectare) site in the town of Ave Maria, near Naples. Ave Maria is an entirely new, master-planned town founded by Domino's Pizza founder and former Detroit Tigers owner Tom Monaghan, who wants to create a community centered around the first new Catholic university to be built in the U.S. in 40 years. Ground was broken for that school in February 2006.
The Florida institute would be the second Jackson Laboratory facility to be built outside Maine. Since 2001, when The Jackson Laboratory-West was established in West Sacramento, Calif., it has moved to new, larger quarters in Sacramento and now employs 102 people. The laboratory's headquarters campus in Bar Harbor added 281 new jobs during the same period, and laboratory officials project further growth of 200 jobs in Maine over the coming five to 10 years.
"Although we are considering a new branch in Florida, our core operations will stay in Maine," Woychik said. "We want to assure our employees, friends and neighbors that any expansion will be designed to complement our existing scientific capabilities here. We will maintain and grow our existing programs and facilities in Maine and California."
As envisioned, the new Florida facility would employ about 200 people. In collaboration with their Bar Harbor colleagues, scientists there would investigate the genetic basis of diseases including cancers, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer's disease, as well as normal development and aging. Florida planners envision that Jackson's research facility in Collier County would serve as an anchor tenant for a larger research and education community that would significantly bolster Southwestern Florida's economy in the long term.
"It's anticipated that the Jackson facility will be part of a larger biotech cluster and will act as a catalyst to grow other not-for-profit and for-profit biotech businesses in Southwest Florida," says Tammie Nemecek, president and CEO of the Economic Development Council of Collier County.
Nemecek says Southwest Florida was one of the hardest hit areas in Florida during the economic downturn. Her organization has targeted life sciences as one sector to help rebuild the region's economy.
"We have an imperative to rebuild the economy in Southwest Florida and create a new base of business opportunities, and to move from an economy based on agriculture, tourism, construction and real estate to something that can be more sustainable such as healthcare and life sciences," Nemecek says.
Jackson Laboratory officials say key factors driving interest in establishing a personalized medicine institute in Florida are:
- the need to be located in a state that already has other research institutes (including branches of Scripps, Torrey Pines, Burnham and Max Planck research institutes) as well as universities and medical schools, for collaboration opportunities;
- and the availability of public funding.
Jackson officials say many more steps remain in the Florida legislative process before any funding could be available for this project. Moreover, Jackson would have to participate in a competitive process to obtain state funds, for which, in turn, local matching funds and private gifts would also have to be organized.
A National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center, the laboratory is also the world's source for more than 5,000 strains of genetically defined mice; the home of the mouse genome database; and an international hub for scientific courses, conferences, training and education.