It was practically a party atmosphere at the state capitol in Hartford Friday afternoon as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, state lawmakers from both parties, officials from the and Jackson Laboratory representatives, announced plans for a public-private partnership to create a $1.1 billion research facility on the campus of the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington.
“I wish we could end every single week like this,” Malloy joked to begin the press conference announcing the agreement.
The new facility, which is estimated to be completed by 2014, is projected to create more than 6,800 jobs over the next 20 years, according to information provided by Malloy’s office, including 842 construction jobs, 661 research jobs at the facility, and about 4,000 “spin-off” jobs in ancillary markets tied to the economic development of the area. The facility will initially be 173,000-square feet of lab space, but 250,000-square feet at its maturity. Jackson Laboratory will commit $809 toward the $1.1 billion project, through a combination of federal grants, philanthropy and service income, while the state of Connecticut will commit $291 to the project, $192 million in a construction loan, and another $99 million in research partnership participation; the state’s expenditures most be approved by the General Assembly. Malloy’s office noted that the state’s commitment would equate to $1 for every $3 of private money spent by Jackson Laboratory.
Malloy hailed the news as an early victory for his Bioscience Connecticut plan, the governor’s proposal to pump $864 million into the University of Connecticut’s Farmington-based Health Center to renovate and expand the medical campus in an effort to turn it into one of the state’s primary economic drivers. That plan was approved by the General Assembly this legislative session roughly along party lines.
“This is how we begin to reinvent Connecticut: by propelling our state into the forefront of an emerging industry,” Malloy said. “By investing in a smart, strategic project like Bioscience Connecticut, as we did in May, the state sent out a loud and clear message around the world to companies and research institutes like Jackson Laboratory that we are ready, willing and able to be a partner in this up-and-coming industry. We have laid down our marker and this immediate return on our investment will help attract other companies to do the same.”
The Bar Harbor, ME-based Jackson Laboratory, which has a staff of about 1,400 employees, had an agreement with the state of Florida to build a similar research facility there, but when that deal fell through Malloy said his administration began to aggressively court the company for its new bioscience investment in late June.
“I’ve been focused on it ever since,” Malloy said. “This announcement is a result of months long discussion between my administration and top officials at Jackson Laboratory. This is the first major return on our investment in Bioscience Connecticut project, and I have to admit that it came along sooner than I might have possibly imagined.”
Dr. Edison T. Liu, Jackson Laboratory’s president and CEO, said the combination of the state’s commitment to the project, the UConn Health Center's location between New York and Boston, and its connection to renowned research universities like Yale and UConn made the Farmington campus the “ideal location” for Jackson’s new lab.
“The critical mass is here, the quality of science is here, the concentration and the will to have this happen is here,” Liu said. “…I’m very, very pleased to be here and I hope to work with our legislative colleagues, our academic colleagues and the governor to make this something that Connecticut will be very, very proud of.”
Malloy said the expanded Farmington Health Center campus would serve as one part of a new “research triangle” that would include UConn in Storrs and the Yale/New Haven area which would have economic benefits for the entire state. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the personalized medicine industry is currently worth an estimated $284 billion annually and growing at a rate of 11 percent a year. Malloy said he hopes to make Connecticut a leader in the field through initiatives like Bioscience Connecticut.
“Connecticut is going to lead in this emerging industry,” Malloy said. “Jackson Laboratory has chosen Connecticut as the site of its new $1 billion dollar project, the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine. While it will be built on the campus of the University of Connecticut’s Health Center, Jackson Labs new facility will draw on expertise of researchers across the state, from Yale to Wesleyan to UConn to Central Connecticut just down the road and any other institution of like mind.”
UConn President Susan Herbst said the facility would have a “tremendous” impact on the university by allowing UConn to hire new research faculty to work in collaboration with the Jackson scientists and shape programs and new curriculum around the cutting-edge research in genomics the facility would specialize in.
“We would like to be a top 20 research university, and I include public and private, and this is the kind of thing that gets you on your way,” Herbst said. “We’re already in the top 20 of public schools, but I’m talking about the entire higher education system.”
With a “substantial” Genomic Science presence on the Storrs campus, Dr. Linda Strausbaugh, director of UConn’s Center for Applied Genetics and Technology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), told Patch that she believes it’s a good time to think about adding more educational activities in Genome Sciences to the Storrs campus.
“I think there will be new opportunities for students in terms of new educational initiatives around Genome Sciences and medicine,” said Strausbaugh, whom also directs UConn’s Professional Sciences Master’s program in Applied Genomics.
“There will be new research opportunities for labs on the Storrs campus that are working in this area. That in turn, creates new jobs for people who live in the area and also creates new jobs for undergraduate and graduate students,” she said.
Even Republican lawmakers, typically Malloy’s staunchest critics, hailed the announcement as a major victory for the state and the governor Friday.
“I just wanted to come here today to personally thank and to congratulate the governor on his hard work and personal involvement in making this very exciting day happen,” said Senate Minority Leader John McKinney.
Still, when talk turned to the actual state funding of the project, Republican leaders said they still had “a lot of questions that need to be asked and a lot of answers that need to be given.”
“There’s a process obviously that has to take place,” said House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero. “As elected public officials we are trustees of the public money, your tax dollars. We have to make sure that if we invest those tax dollars we are getting a return on the investment. And in this particular case the obvious concerns come up – how many jobs are we going to create? What kind of tax revenue will we reap from this initiative?”
Malloy said he hopes to make approval of the state’s commitment to the project “the cornerstone” of a special session dedicated to job creation the legislature will hold at the end of October.
Mansfield-Storrs Local Editor Elyssa Millspaugh contributed to this article.