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Robert Trigaux

Biotech funding blunder? Jackson Lab deal to expand to Sarasota may be doomed




Wake up and good morning. Can the Big Buck Deal to bring Maine's Jackson Laboratory to a new facility in Sarasota County -- a proposal that's had Sarasota leaders swooning at nabbing a serious slice of the biotech pie -- be slipping away already? Looks like, to borrow the phrase, "a failure to communicate" or perhaps a failure to sell this deal quickly enough in Tallahassee.

(AP photo above: A lab mouse climbs on the gloved hand of a technician at the Jackson Laboratory, in Bar Harbor, Maine. Among other things, the lab ships more than two million mice a year to qualified researchers.)

Ouch. According to today's Sarasota Herald Tribune, Jackson Lab's hopes of getting the state legislature to cough up $100 million as its share in funding "is doomed, barring a last-minute political miracle." The story states: "State legislators say Sarasota County and Jackson Labs have been so late in asking the Legislature for money that, despite the promise of 2,200 new jobs and a jolt to the local economy, they do not see how they can secure the money this year."

Ultimately, the story blames both Jackson Lab and the Sarasota backers of the expansion deal as disorganized, lacking specifics that legislators needed much earlier in the game in order to sell this package to Tallahassee, and, frankly, political rubes.

mikebennettbradenton.jpgJackson Lab's biggest legislative champion, Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton (photo, right), calls the effort "the most disorganized budget request he has seen in 10 years in the legislature," the newspaper said. 

The overall deal to get Jackson to expand to Sarasota is $300 million or so. Of course, if the state won't deliver a third of that money, Jackson Lab won't be coming to Sarasota. And it won't be working with the University of  South Florida on genetics-based research on fighting disease.

The state could still pull this out of its hat, but I doubt that's going to happen given the draconian budget cutbacks already coming out of Tallahassee. Besides, the deal to lure Jackson Lab -- and Sarsasota leaders in their hearts will acknowledge this -- is a true financial stretch, one that depends a lot on the greater Sarasota community raising loads of private funds to support Jackson. That's fine if Sarasota truly has a mind to do so, but it's a massive subsidy that would be required while the Florida and area economies are still struggling mightily.

michaelhydevpjacksonlab.jpgThe Herald Tribune reports that Jackson Lab won't even think about expanding without state funding this year. Jackson Lab already has spent over a year trying to move to Collier County in southwest Florida only to see that deal crumble, too. Jackson Lab VP Michael Hyde (photo, left) refused to comment to the Sarasota newspaper whether Jackson would look to other states if funding from Florida is not forthcoming. "But in previous interviews he has confirmed that Texas and Utah have made overtures to get the facility," the paper said.

Is this any way to develop a biotech cluster? Or is this the overstretched Florida economy telling us this deal is too much for too little?

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times

[Last modified: Thursday, March 24, 2011 7:09am]


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