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Jackson Lab Voices Support for 'Innovation Zone' in Florida County

By Alex Philippidis

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — The Jackson Laboratory says it would support being included in a new "innovation zone" covering its planned personalized medicine campus near Naples, Fla., if it were pursued by officials in Florida's Collier County — which on Tuesday approved a law allowing creation of such zones.

"It is not up to us. This is an action that would have to be taken by the county," Michael Hyde, Jackson Lab's vice president for advancement and external relations, told GenomeWeb Daily News. "We would support the move if they decided to pursue the matter."

The Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday expressed hope that the "innovation zone" program would succeed where past county incentives failed, namely in drawing to Collier larger employers in the life sciences and other technologies.

The innovation zone program would allow the county to collect taxes on the increment of increased property value generated within the zones, a process known in other states as "tax increment financing." But unlike many of those TIF programs, which limit taxes collected in a zone to uses within that zone, Collier County commissioners would retain greater flexibility about how the funds could be used. Those uses will be decided as the zones are formed, and can be reviewed annually.

"What the board could do is use [proceeds] within that zone, or the board could siphon all or part of the money from one zone to another zone, to create in essence one megafund to build up some sort of economic war chest to bring things in," County Attorney Jeffrey Klatzkow said during a webcast of the commissioners' meeting. "This gives the board absolute discretion on how the board wishes to develop these plans."

While officials discussed a traditional use of TIFs, funding new infrastructure, board Chairman Fred Coyle was quoted by the Naples Daily News last week suggesting that proceeds from the zones could pay a "seed funding" portion of the county's share of the economic incentive package designed to attract Jackson Lab.

Headquartered in Bar Harbor, Me., Jackson Lab wants to develop a third campus focusing on personalized medicine near Naples, Fla., within a 50-acre site to be donated by developer Barron-Collier Cos. Jackson Lab has projected its Florida campus will employ about 200 people, a workforce size expected to be reached three to four years after the facility opened.

Collier County would be expected to come up with $130 million to match the $130 million over three years — including $50 million for the fiscal year starting July 1 — that Florida would commit to Jackson Lab under an amendment to the $70 billion state budget that passed both houses of the state legislature. The budget has yet to be signed into law by Gov. Charlie Crist, who is expected to line-item veto portions of the spending plan, though not the incentive package.

Speaking at the Tuesday meeting, however, Coyle said no decisions have been made on how to fund the county's share of the incentive package. Coyle also sought to separate discussion of the laboratory's project from the innovation zone law, which he said had been in discussion by officials of the county and the public-private Economic Development Council of Collier County since February 2008, a year and a half before Jackson Lab's first talks with Collier officials.

County officials are also considering funding Collier's portion of the Jackson Lab package through a "franchise fee" on Florida Power & Light utility bills. But Coyle termed "absolutely ludicrous" reports in several local news outlets that the fee under discussion would be around the 5.9 percent standard rate that has been added to utility bills in many of the 170 county and local governments that benefit from such collections.

The economic incentive package also commits Jackson Lab to raising $120 million toward the project, something the laboratory has said it will do through a philanthropic campaign.

According to Jackson Lab's Hyde, the campaign's pre-public phase has to date received "a little bit northward of $10 million" in pledges from prospective donors.

"Not a bad start," Hyde told GWDN. "The point was to test the philanthropic interest in the new institute. No timetable has been set for a public campaign at this time."

It would be premature to do so, Hyde added, before Jackson Lab has finalized a local funding match from Collier County, obtained approval from its Board of Trustees, and finalized an economic package with the state.

Coyle said at the meeting that Jackson Lab's board is two weeks away from being presented with hearing a detailed business plan on the Naples-area campus.

"We expect Jackson Labs would be the anchor tenant for a much broader genetics research and personalized medicine complex consisting of the Jackson Labs research facilities, a hospital, a university extension with degree courses, specialized medical clinics for Alzheimer's, cancer, and a number of specific diseases. And also, it would consist of the residential and commercial development that is necessary to sustain a village of that type," Coyle said.

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