SARASOTA -- The Jackson Laboratory on Friday officially ended its effort to build a proposed biomedical research facility in Sarasota County, saying Florida “doesn’t have the wherewithal to support a project of this magnitude.”
“We’d been very clear for a long time that it would take a substantial amount of funding to make this happen,” Mike Hyde, the nonprofit group’s vice president of advancement, said Friday afternoon. “It became clear that level of funding wasn’t in the cards.”
Local legislators who had championed the project for months struck a different chord Friday, saying they were not surprised that Jackson’s proposed project was no longer a possibility.
“It was a long shot, and became a longer shot as the economy continued to drag along,” said State Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton. “When you look at the number of the jobs the governor is committed to creating, we did not see that kind of return on the (Jackson Lab) investment at this stage of the game.”
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“In this scenario, the return on investment was jobs,” said Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota. “And the return was low enough that maybe we can do something, but not at (their) numbers. We need jobs, very quickly. And we need a lot of jobs.”
Jackson Lab had been asking for $100 million in state funding, spread out over several years. It had promised to generate about 100 high-paying jobs in the first five years of its project, more than 400 jobs over 20 years, and up to 3,000 jobs over two decades, including spin-off companies it said its presence would generate.
Sarasota County would have needed to match the state’s contribution, and county officials had indicated repeatedly they were ready to stand behind a public referendum to raise what Jackson was asking. Jackson itself was to raise more than $800 million for its proposed 120,000-square-foot facility, which would have focused on researching diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
As weeks continued to pass with no word on its funding request, Jackson Lab had begun exploring “contingencies,” Hyde said, and has “conversations underway with various other potential partners.”
The decision to conclude Jackson Lab’s Florida efforts, Hyde said, came after a phone conversation Friday morning with representatives of Enterprise Florida, a public/private partnership charged with researching economic development opportunities on behalf of the state.
“It’s become apparent that there simply isn’t enough money available to make it possible for us to succeed,” he said.
Bennett said that while Jackson Lab pressed for state funds, he had chosen to withhold his overall feeling of skepticism about the project in order to “fulfill the wishes” of his constituents.
“You’ve got to take your best shot forward for the community,” he said. “But I’m also a realist. There are some things we could have done differently and that Jackson could have done differently. We could have pushed harder for Jackson to get us earlier business reports and financial reports and business plans. It wasn’t until the last two weeks of the legislative session that we had a comprehensive business plan from Jackson.”
Holder said that while Jackson Lab’s decision may be disappointing, the area should be encouraged by other prospects, including one local company he said is projecting the addition of more than 700 highly skilled jobs for an incentive of about $9 million.
Eric Basinger, head of the Manatee Economic Development Council, encouraged the local community to see Jackson Lab’s intense interest in Sarasota as “a credit to southwest Florida as a location for biomedical research and related businesses.”
Christine Hawes, Bradenton Herald business writer, can be reached at (941) 745-7081.