On the Mark: Jackson Labs: Will there be a round two?

MARK STRAIN

For whatever reason, and one we may never honestly know, approval of the controversial Jackson Labs project has been pulled from the new governor’s consideration until it can be rewritten to better conform to what the applicants hope are the governor’s expectations.

Practically any change to this project could be an improvement and the fact that it is being modified to accommodate the new governor begs the question: Why weren’t modifications that would better address the concerns of a vast majority of our community considered to begin with?

The answer may lie in the fundamentally flawed approach that has plagued this project from the very beginning. Instead of embracing the public and being up front with the many proceedings that this project went through in order to gain approval, many facts involving Jackson Labs were only made public through the continued efforts of conscientious members of the public who had to battle institutional politics at its worst to gain bits and pieces of additional information.

Instead of bringing the public into the fold of knowledge-based information and responding to questions of concern, the public was met with hostility and condescending attitudes by the local politicians that endorsed this project. Then, when that attitude failed to stop the questions, the reaction was to resort to declarations of the confidentiality of government submittals. This resulted in restricted access to information that may have been helpful to validate impacts and provide hope this project was as good as the applicants claimed.

Our elected officials do not, under any circumstances, know better than the people they serve. They were elected to listen and to then make qualified and unbiased decisions. Placing themselves in a position of acting like lobbyists for the Jackson Labs project is the first ingredient in a recipe leading to failure.

It would certainly not harm Collier County if we were able to attract new diversity to our economy and that diversity included advance medical research. After all, we have a large retirement community where the level of retirement earnings is significantly higher than average and can therefore afford better medical attention. In addition, such industries are considered far “cleaner” than other industrial counterparts.

It is important that any new industry be located where it can be adequately serviced and fits in well with long range community planning. It is equally important that every new industry pay its fair share of costs just as others before them have. Costs will vary and can be mitigated to some extent by benefits from improvements to the economy and increased labor possibilities brought on by a new industry, but putting a monetary grant to private industry on the backs of the taxpayers is something that must be decided by voters; not politicians acting as lobbyists.

Hopefully Jackson Labs will enter round two of their evolution but this time as a community effort and not so much a political effort. Hopefully this past year or so of controversy has not hardened them or this community from trying again, if anything they should realize our community is not comprised of laid back non-thinkers. Collier County has a wealth of talent from all walks of life; from those who have survived here when there was little to survive on to others who have relocated here from successful business careers elsewhere. There is a lot to share by working together, certainly more than could ever be gained from continuing a relationship built on a lack of trust.

For Jackson Labs, Collier County is a great location. For Ave Maria, Jackson Labs is a much needed amenity. If done right, Collier County has more to gain than to lose by Ave Maria continuing to court Jackson Labs. Our tax base can only benefit from a higher probability of success for a new town and with the possible addition of a large anchor industry, that will become the nucleus for much more. The ingredients are there to find a solution; we just need the proper mix.

Whatever plan is being developed for approval from the new governor, it should not be one that will continue with the idea of placing a general tax on county citizens without allowing for their approval through the referendum process and it most certainly needs to provide full disclosure in order to determine what the real benefits are.

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