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Florida's Collier County Requests Information from Would-Be Backers of Jackson Lab Campus

By Alex Philippidis

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Florida's Collier County has issued a formal Request for Information from would-be benefactors — both private businesses and philanthropists or philanthropic groups — that are interested in underwriting at least part of the county's $130 million share of the project cost.

Collier County hopes to defray much of the $130 million share by raising at least part of it from private partners. The request asks potential partners to describe "relevant" public-private projects they have helped develop within the past three years, "including the breakdown of fixed and variable rate instruments used to calculate the cost of credit, and the public partnership contact information."

"The County intends to gauge the market interest from firms for partnering towards fulfilling the local match amount for The Jackson Laboratory project," according to the request for information, issued Friday.

The request sets a Nov. 9, noon deadline for would-be backers to submit written questions to the county. The deadline for responses is noon on Nov. 12.

"Subsequent to the RFI process, the County anticipates developing and issuing a Request for Proposal from interested firms," according to the information request.

The request for information comes at a time when Collier officials are seeking a state court ruling that the use of county funds toward the $130 million serves a "valid public purpose," and thus is legal. Earlier this year, the county agreed in principle to spend $130 million toward the Jackson Lab project, matching the $130 million — including $50 million this fiscal year from the state's Innovation Incentive Fund — agreed upon by Florida lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Crist.

In return, Jackson Lab has committed to spending $120 million that it plans to raise through a philanthropic campaign toward the personalized medicine campus.

Headquartered in Bar Harbor, Me., Jackson Lab plans next year to open a translational genetics research institute set to employ 244 people by 2020. The 165,000-square-foot institute will be built on 50 acres to be donated by developer Barron Collier Cos. Jackson Lab's campus would anchor a 700-acre "biomedical research and education village," envisioned as housing a mix of commercial, academic, and research tenants.

"The facility will house wet labs and bioinformatics and computational dry labs, along with a small vivarium that can be built-out as needed for different genetic model organisms," according to the request for information.

Jackson Lab already has announced a personalized medicine partnership with the University of South Florida, and it has agreed to explore areas of common research interest with Florida Gulf Coast University. In addition, it is exploring with Edison State College the creation of a charter high school with a curriculum emphasizing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

In July, the laboratory also announced its first corporate partner for the biomedical village — Athleticode, a Larkspur, Calif., provider of personalized genetic testing and training programs for athletes seeking to reduce injury and enhance performance.

The proposed use of funding by Collier for the Jackson Lab has proven controversial, with many residents arguing against using county money to fund the project. They have contended that that the benefits to the laboratory and biomedical village are outweighed by the project's cost to county taxpayers. Some have equated the county funding to corporate welfare, though the laboratory is a nonprofit organization.

However, a majority of Collier's Board of County Commissioners, led by its chairman Fred Coyle, have supported the concept by citing projections that the lab will yield new jobs and economic activity. A consultant to the public-private Economic Development Council of Collier County has projected that the biomedical village and Jackson Lab would generate a total 4,913 jobs by 2020 and 11,490 jobs by 2032.

Collier County's unemployment rate stood at 13.3 percent last month, barely below the 13.4 percent of September 2009. The RFI cited the county's high unemployment, using an earlier figure of 13.5 percent, and noted that property values have decreased, and lenders have foreclosed on more than 22,000 homes over the past two years.

"With this tremendous downturn it its economic stability, the Collier County Board of Commissioners is looking for year-round stable and diversified investments for its citizens," the RFI stated.

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