Recently I met with a small group of Glades residents to talk about the Jackson Lab issue and answer a few questions. They in turn asked me to write about the subject in my column, and I am responding by doing so.
My friend Shirlee and I went to Bar Harbor, Maine, to attend an event sponsored by Jackson Lab, but we arrived a couple days early because I wanted to meet with town officials, the town manager, chamber people, restaurateurs, hoteliers, residents of the town, educators, etc., before I went to the lab to speak to their employees. Some of our citizens have been very vocal, so I wanted to know how the Lab had affected their community.
Now mind you, this 81-year-old laboratory has never had any intention of creating a village or cluster on their Bar Harbor property. Yet, as I learned from the town council members who would like them to expand in Bar Harbor rather than Collier County, the lab pumps $220 million a year into their economy and actually keeps their economy and their businesses alive during their long, cold winter. No matter who I spoke to, the message stayed the same. I was clearly surprised though, to learn of how many tourism dollars were added to their economy because of the lab.
An educator explained that because of the brilliant, high caliber scientists that are drawn to the lab, bringing with them equally brilliant spouses, who then produce brilliant offspring, the level of education rose in their school system. That benefit had never occurred to me before speaking to this educator.
I asked what Jackson Labs would be contributing to the move to Collier County and learned that throughout the first 10 years they expect to contribute nearly $300 million. These were figures I hadn’t heard before.
As many of you are aware, a memorandum of understanding has been signed by University of South Florida, the ninth leading medical university in the country, to build an adjoining property to Jackson Labs, if this effort moves forward. Also, Edison College wants to build a magnet high school focusing on medicine, science, math and biology on the same property, and has signed an memorandum to that affect. We expect to hear soon of a teaching hospital that will also join the cluster, and a few other businesses that are in the process of signing on as well.
As you’ve probably heard (I told the audience) if the Jackson Labs effort moves forward, they have until March 1 to begin construction, which is a requirement of the state of Florida. Obviously, the land we are discussing is raw land, so all of the buildings just mentioned must be built, which means immediate employment for hundreds of people now out of work and needing our assistance to live day to day. It will take about two years to build the lab itself — two years of work for people in the construction business, from engineers and architects to laborers to suppliers of building materials, etc.
Once built, each of these facilities will employ many people, and attract many more for classes, etc. Obviously services will be needed within this cluster to support all of the people working or visiting the many businesses, so more construction will have to take place to build restaurants, drug stores, gas stations, hair salons, gift shops, etc. As you can envision, this will take many, many people off the unemployment lines and back to work to support their families and give them back their dignity and pride. These are some reasons I have felt so very strongly about moving forward with this project.
How much will it cost each household in Collier County? As near as we can figure at this time, it should add about $50 per year to our tax bill, or about $4 per month on your electric bill. Not much, I would say, to kick-start our economy almost immediately. It would be something like eliminating that mocha cappuccino once a month. Heck, to bring people back to work and invest in the future of Collier County — that is a small price to pay!
For many years we have provided incentives for businesses to come to Collier County or to expand their present businesses or just to improve their businesses. In fact, we provide incentives for many other things in Collier County such as low income housing. We — the county, the donors, and the taxpayers — also provide assistance for other aspects of our community such as health care for the unemployed or low-income workers, homeless assistance, youth in need of protection, down payment and home repair assistance for low income qualified residents, shelter for the abused, language classes to help people assimilate into our community, and the list goes on and on. We gladly donate to these and many more social service aspects of our community, never expecting to receive anything in return.
Along comes Jackson Labs, who will be contributing to our community once it is approved through many, many construction and technical jobs almost immediately and for many years to come, which by the way should help our economy improve and reduce our unemployment figures. It’s like the gift that keeps on giving back!
No, we don’t know yet whether Jackson Labs will actually come to Collier County or whether those who do not care about improving our economy and our unemployment will defeat this project. Don’t worry about Jackson Labs — other counties are waiting with anticipation to scoop them up. Will we have another chance at state money to kick start our economy and reduce our unemployment? I sincerely doubt it. Will other businesses be eager to come to Collier County after this show? I doubt it.
It was former Governor Jeb Bush who created this effort to become a bio-medical state and identified state dollars as an incentive to do so. I’m sure he is watching as well.