Donna Fiala says
"I’m leaving here very comfortable with what this lab can do for the future of Collier County. I have to know the funding source, obviously it would be very important.”
Jim Coletta says
"“At this point in time I am leaning toward the positive yet to go forward, I am waiting for the final issue of funding.”
BAR HARBOR, Maine _ The trip to Maine this weekend likely did the trick for two Collier County commissioners.
After separate tours of Jackson Laboratory’s genetics research campus, meeting its scientists and listening to presentations about the future of genetics-based medicine, commissioners Donna Fiala and Jim Coletta all but said they are ready to bring the nonprofit Jackson to Collier.
If nothing changes by the time the commission meets July 27, a majority vote to go forward appears clear _ Chairman Fred Coyle has been the board’s point person on the project and Commissioner Frank Halas has indicated he supports it.
Still, both Fiala and Coletta say they need to delve into how to raise $130 million in local money, to match the same amount expected from the state.
“Yes, I have to say that,” Fiala said, when asked if she was sold on the Jackson proposal. “I have to say that I am. I’m leaving here very comfortable with what this lab can do for the future of Collier County. I have to know the funding source, obviously it would be very important.”
Before going to Maine, Fiala said she didn’t know how she stood.
“I really didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “I was just as ready to say ‘no’ to this as I was to say ‘yes.’”
The Jackson project has been spearheaded by the Economic Development Council to help diversify Collier’s economy away from real estate, tourism and agriculture.
In general, businesses and civic associations are backing the project while some in the community say Jackson’s business plan is shaky and giving $260 million to the nonprofit organization is corporate welfare. They welcome the lab to Collier but not at taxpayers’ expense.
Jackson proposes to create 200 jobs, phased in over time, after opening a genetics research center on 50 acres on Oil Well Road that would be donated by the Barron Collier Co. The bigger idea is that the lab would serve as an anchor to attract other biomedical groups to the area to foster a research park with thousands of new jobs over the long term.
Orlando, Palm Beach and Port St. Lucie are among communities in Florida that have embarked on similar endeavors with varying levels of local and state support and private dollars.
Collier County Attorney Jeff Klatzkow, who had one day in Bar Harbor to get a tour and meet with Jackson officials, said he previously had thought it was more of a mouse production facility than a scientific research center.
“I am far more impressed with these people that I was with Sanford-Burnham,” he said, referring to a nonprofit research group in Orlando that he visited recently with others from Collier. “It’s just a feeling. This would be a wonderful facility to have in Collier if there was no cost to Collier County. It would be open arms.”
Fiala said she hasn’t been following the work of the citizen-based Productivity Committee, which is examining the economic feasibility of the project. The group also is exploring options for generating the $130 million.
What's the story behind Jackson Laboratory, based in Bar Harbor, Maine, and considering an expansion to Collier County? Daily News journalists Liz Freeman and Greg Kahn have traveled to Bar Harbor this week to find out. Follow their reports at naplesnews.com and in the Daily News.
The committee has put together a list of options of property tax levies that could include bonding or pay-as-you-go funding, a franchise fee with Florida Power & Light, a combined franchise fee and property tax, or a sales tax increase.
Fiala arrived in Bar Harbor on Wednesday and spoke with residents and city leaders to get a handle on what Jackson means to the community with an economy that is based on tourism and fishing. The lab has been in Bar Harbor since 1929 and is the largest employer in the area.
“I haven’t heard anything bad,” Fiala said. “I would think before anyone would complain about Jackson Lab they ought to do their due diligence like I just did and tell me why they don’t like it.”
Coletta was accompanied to Maine by Nick Healy, president of Ave Maria University, which would be Jackson’s neighbor in Collier County. At a recent commission meeting, Coletta expressed concern about Jackson potentially doing research some day using embryonic stem cells. He asked Coyle if the lab would commit to not using embryonic stem cells; Coyle responded that would be a deal-breaker.
In Maine, Coletta said Jackson officials explained they can’t commit to what lab leaders in the future may want to do or not do.
“They do have an ethics council in place and are willing to put one in Naples with members of the community to weigh in,” he said.
From another standpoint, Coletta said, if Jackson doesn’t go to the Ave Maria location, it could go “in a secular community that may not have the same standards.”
Coletta said he tried not form an opinion before but is excited now about the possibilities, especially science educational opportunities for Collier children by Jackson. In Maine, the lab has programs for local children and for students nationwide to come to Maine for a summer science program.
“At this point in time I am leaning toward the positive yet to go forward, I am waiting for the final issue of funding.”
Coletta said part of Jackson administrators’ problem selling the Naples project is their honesty, which works against them when they say they can only commit to creating 200 jobs in 10 years.
“They don’t have control over what could happen beyond that,” he said. “They work from a platform of total honesty but it makes it difficult to sell the final product.”
READ MORE FROM THE DAILY NEWS FACT-FINDING TRIP TO BAR HARBOR
BLOGS/COLUMNS - JACKSON LAB
Wolf pack circling, fighting for taxpayer’s bones Political Point of View by Collier Democrats
Will elections be a referendum on Jackson Lab? The Residents' Corner by Dave Trecker
Where does the Naples Tea Party stand on Jackson Labs? Naples Tea Party
The Jackson Labs question made simple - sort of Brent Batten
Lead, follow or get out of the way Fred Coyle / Collier County Commissioner, District 4
A big gamble on a lots of uncertainty Dave Trecker / Pelican Bay
Questions, answers on the proposed Jackson Laboratory/Florida Tammie Nemecek / President, Economic Development Council of Collier County
The Scientific Reality of Jackson Lab The Residents' Corner by Dave Trecker
Thoughts on Jackson Lab Political Point of View by Collier Democrats
Jackson labs business plan a work in progress Brent Batten
Uncertain predictions, questions cloud Jackson Lab proposal Reinhold Schmieding / Naples / President and founder, Arthrex Inc.
Jackson Laboratory: Keep Expectations in check The Residents' Corner by Dave Trecker
In hard times, Collier should help residents, not Jackson Lab Peter Gaddy / President, Golden Gates Estates Area Civic Association
Principals and practicalities of Jackson Lab subsidy don’t add up Guest commentary by Pelican Bay resident Jack Chandler
Jackson Laboratory and Collier County ... what comes next? Fred Coyle / Chairman, Collier County Commission
Jackson Lab a meeting of mice and men Brent Batten