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Robert Trigaux

Is this a case of Orlando 'cluster envy' or a good question about building critical mass?



michaelhydejacksonlabvpforadvancement.jpgWake up and good morning. Nothing like a good tale of jealousy. This one starts with Maine-based Jackson Laboratory sniffing around Florida looking for a warm weather, incentive-laden spot to open a facility in Florida. Collier County had a first shot but backed off what was materializing as a $260 million deal (the first $50 million coming from the state), but backed off after it began to feel the bang -- future jobs -- was too weak for the buck.

Now Jackson Laboratory is looking in the Tampa Bay area. Why? Because it has ties to the University of South Florida, which like this region is eagerly coveting a biotech industry.

Enter Orlando, which to its credit has put pedal to metal and built up a biotech/medical industry -- dubbed "medical city" -- in its Lake Nona area far more quickly than Tampa Bay's endeavors. Thus, an intriguing question is asked by Orlando Sentinel business columnist Beth Kassab. Hey! We've got a meaty biotech cluster right here with names like Sanford-Burnham and a University of Central Florida medical school. Why doesn't Jackson laboratory come here? After all, how many biotech industry clusters do we need? How many can we even sustain? Here's the column.

Hmmm. That's either a darn good economic development question or perhaps the first recorded case of Cluster Envy in Florida. Kassab quotes Mike Hyde, Jackson Laboratory's vice president for advancement (photo above), saying while Jackson executives met with Lake Nona and its developer, investment company Tavistock Group, Jackson is focusing on Tampa or Sarasota because of its ties with USF. "It would offer us and USF cost-saving opportunities to take advantage of facilities and personnel already in place," he said. Jackson Lab, based in Bar Harbor, Maine, does genetics research.

"I don't believe it was ever the state's intention to put all of its biomedical efforts in one location," Hyde told the Sentinel. Notes Kassab: "Perhaps not. But Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature need to start asking some serious questions about how many biomedical clusters it should invest in before critical mass should take over."

Indeed. Economic development folks in Florida, at least at this early stage of the industry cluster game, will say there's room for plenty of regional clusters in the state, especially if biotech is anchored by a big university, as Orlando has with UCF and Tampa Bay has with USF.

I think this is a first volley in an emerging war over building critical mass. Stay tuned.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist 

[Last modified: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 6:50am]


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