Research lab trip eyes possible sites in Sarasota

SARASOTA -- After today, officials with the Jackson Laboratory may have some answers on where they will establish a biomedical research institute being proposed for the region.

Jackson Lab officials from Maine are scheduled to land at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport today and then take a helicopter tour of Sarasota County that will stretch from Lakewood Ranch to south Sarasota County.

“They’re going from the airport, down the (Interstate) 75 corridor, over and then up the coast,” said Teri Hansen, president and chief executive officer of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

Hansen and Sarasota County commissioners have already met with Jackson Lab officials once. The community foundation is the “convener” bringing parties together to talk in the community, Hansen said.

Today’s visit will focus heavily on land availability for the proposed $260 million research facility Jackson hopes to establish in the region, officials said.

“We want to locate our facility in the community that will give us the greatest chances of success and we may know more about that after this trip,” said Mike Hyde, vice president for advancement and external relations at The Jackson Laboratory.

The company wants to secure 50 acres for its campus where it will locate a 165,000-square-foot facility for its genetic research laboratories, according to a business plan it wrote in June 2010 for Collier County.

The Jackson Lab originally considered Collier County for its research facility but a lack of available local funding killed the deal.

It is unclear if Jackson Lab ever looked to Manatee County for its regional biomedical facility.

Florida Statute prohibits Manatee Economic Development Council officials from discussing specifics of the Jackson Lab proposal while Jackson is negotiating with area agencies.

Eric Basinger, executive director of Manatee EDC, however, says bringing such an institute to the region could deliver substantial economic rewards.

“It would have a major impact,” Basinger said. “Their basic business plan is massive if everything is fully developed.”

Jackson Lab, when aiming for Collier County, said its research facility would cost $260 million and create 204 high-wage, high-skilled positions over seven years.

The business plan also estimated Jackson Lab would create an local economic impact worth $300 million over seven years.

“We think it could be a game changer,” Hansen said.

Deep pockets will be needed to make it happen and Hansen said Gulf Coast Community Foundation has had no discussion on what monetary stake it will have in the project even though the institute will depend heavily on philanthropic support.

Jackson Lab’s business plan calls for $130 million from Florida state funding, a local match of $130 million and $120 million in philanthropic support that it hopes to raise through a campaign with public and private partnerships.

“If we can get the stars to align and bring them here, of course, it could be a great economic opportunity for the area,” said Sarasota County Commissioner Christine Robinson.

After today’s visit, Hyde said he hopes Jackson Lab will inch closer to meeting with Gov. Rick Scott to present its proposal for state funding consideration.

However, Hyde indicated Jackson Lab is seeking a financial commitment on the deal before it meets with state officials.

“We believe that we will need a partner in order to make the approach to the governor,” Hyde said. “We’re concentrating now on putting together the outlines of some sort of agreement and then we can pursue with the governor.”