NAPLES — Arthrex officials are making good on plans to take a company expansion out of the community because Collier County leaders aren’t letting residents vote on Jackson Laboratory.
In an e-mail to Collier commissioners and Gov. Charlie Crist this week, Arthrex president and founder Reinhold Schmieding said he plans to hire 100 year-round, high-wage employees in the next 18 months.
Those new jobs would only happen in Collier when the commission goes forward with a voter referendum to see if local residents want to invest $130 million in taxpayer dollars to Jackson.
“Inequality and bias in funding single enterprise corporate welfare, without a voter referendum, is an unacceptable government precedence that undermines justification for our further investment in business expansion in Collier County,” he said.
The e-mail was sent Monday, Sept. 13, the day before the commission was set to hear a petition from North Naples resident Janet Vasey to consider a mail-in ballot referendum on the proposed $130 million in funding for Jackson. She suggested the referendum be done in December.
Commissioner Tom Henning offered a motion for a referendum to be drafted but it died for lack of second. Arthrex had even offered to pay the $300,000 expense estimated by the Collier County Supervisor of Elections Office.
Arthrex’s chief counsel, John Schmieding, said late this week that the company’s plan to take its expansion outside of Collier still stands. In June, the company also stated it was looking to take the expansion elsewhere, because of Jackson, and company officials had started to look at options in other states.
“We have been solicited by other states and counties and communities,” said Scott Price, Arthrex vice president. “The states we have been talking to are inviting us to come visit and meet local government and local (economic development council officials) to see if there is a fit with Arthrex. That is where we are.”
Current operations of the medical device manufacturing company will remain, including the 614 new jobs that have been added in the past three years. All told, Arthrex has created more than 900 jobs in Collier since 1991.
Reinhold Schmieding has been an outspoken critic of the county’s plans, spearheaded by the Economic Development Council, to bring the Maine-based nonprofit genetics research institute to Collier in hopes of fostering economic diversity and creating jobs. Schmieding said arguments that Jackson can be an anchor to create a biomedical cluster are unsubstantiated and misleading.
The Barron Collier Co. has agreed to give Jackson 50 acres on Oil Well Road near Ave Maria for its research center, along with earmarking 200 more acres for other biotech firms, a university program, hospital and commercial enterprises that would establish a presence there so a larger biotech research park develops over the long term.
The state Legislature designated $50 million this past spring to the project and would be asked to provide another $80 million in future years. The county would be expected to match the state money.
In his e-mail to the commission, Schmieding wrote that the 100 new employees to be hired over the next few years would have an economic impact of $125 million, in comparison to the 200 jobs that Jackson is forecast to create over 10 years.
Tammie Nemecek, president and chief executive officer of the EDC, said Schmieding didn’t send the e-mail to her. He likewise has been critical of the EDC for its role in the Jackson project.
“Since he did not send it to me, I think it is more directed at the commission,” she said, adding that she and her staff are more than willing to work with any local companies, including Arthrex, to expand in the community.
Often when a company decides to look elsewhere for an expansion, business reasons come into play, she said.
Nemecek said Schmieding is having a philosophical and political difference with the commission with respect to the Jackson project, which involves a process to work through and that is ongoing.
“His decision right now is more of a political decision,” she said.
__ Connect with reporter Liz Freeman at www.naplesnews.com/staff/liz_freeman
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Reporting from Bar Harbor, Maine: