With Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration doesn’t need the support of Republicans to give Jackson Laboratories $291 million to build in Connecticut, but it’s hoping it gets at least some.
The nonprofit genetic laboratory has plans to build a 175,000 square foot building, including 35 dry labs and 20 wet labs in Farmington on the University of Connecticut campus—an opportunity that presented itself after the state of Florida decided not to offer the company any incentives.
Executives from the company joined Malloy’s Chief of Staff Tim Bannon and Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith Wednesday to answer questions about the proposal they hope to pass during the Oct. 26 special session on jobs.
At a meeting of Republican lawmakers, Jackson Laboratories Chief Financial Officer Charles Hewett explained that the project in Connecticut is much bigger than the one it planned to build in Florida.
“More importantly it will be much more closely integrated with UConn Health, the UConn Medical School, the medical school at Yale, and hopefully with the hospitals in both Hartford and New Haven,” Hewett said.
The lab which specializes in personalized genomic medicine hopes to use the Connecticut site as a place to do clinical trials on humans. It will maintain its headquarters in Bar Harbor, Maine where there are about 1,300 employees and it specializes in breeding and selling more than 6,000 types of research mice.
“We’ll move from using the mouse, more or less exclusively, as a research model with a human being to using human DNA, human clinical outcomes to develop these new insights,” Hewett said.
The lab expects to hire 330 researchers and support staff before the end of the first 10 years. If it does the $291 million loan could be forgiven by the state. The total cost of the project is $1.1 billion.
Smith explained the money will be bonded at the rate of about $25 million a year and will not exceed the current amount of bonding the state planned on doing over that period.
She also estimated that the net revenue to the state after the initial investment will be $472 million. Most of that will come from personal income taxes paid by the laboratory employees because it’s a nonprofit it won’t be paying any corporate or property taxes.
But it was difficult for Republican lawmakers to grasp the fact that this proposal came to them a month before they’re expected to approve it. And like additional $254 million in bonding for the expansion of the Uconn Health Center in Farmington some couldn’t help but express reservations about the pace of the project and how it was being presented to them.
Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said 330 jobs over 10 years will be a tough sell to his constituents.
Other Republican lawmakers were having flashbacks to the failed deal with Robert Kraft to move the New England Patriots to the state during former Gov. John G. Rowland’s administration.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said when he was talking to Jackson Labs President and CEO Dr. Edison Liu he told him that more than a decade ago he attended a similar reception for the New England Patriots, who had planned to build a football stadium in Hartford after talks with Massachusetts lawmakers broke down.
“I looked the gentleman in the eye to try to read him and I said, ‘Are you committed to Connecticut?’ And he looked at me in the most sincere way and said absolutely,” Cafero. “It was Robert Kraft. The next day I went out and bought every Patriot thing I could think of, lamps, coats, hats. That Christmas I burnt them all.”
“He broke my heart. I said ‘Dr. Liu are you going to break my heart?’ And he said no,” Cafero said.
Deep down, Cafero said he believes Jackson Labs wants to be here and he believes it is different than Florida.
“The guy said it very honestly. You’re between Boston and New York. You’re dealing with two premiere universities, Connecticut and Yale. I couldn’t duplicate that scenario in Florida. I couldn’t duplicate it in Maine. I can’t duplicate it in many places in America,” Cafero said. “So I believe him. There’s truth to that.”
Cafero said he doesn’t blame the governor for pushing the issue and he applauded him for trying to develop a process and explain it to lawmakers.
But Cafero is still struggling with how Malloy will separate the $291 million low-interest loan to the laboratory during the same special session on jobs. He said there has to be something for small business in the jobs package. If there’s not then the spirit of bipartisanship will come to an end.
Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R- Naugatuck, asked if the legislature waited to pass this during the regular session in February if it would be a deal breaker for the laboratory.
“I’m certainly not issuing any ultimatums,” Hewett said. “I will tell you that within the last week I’ve had three calls to say come to us if Connecticut doesn’t work out. Would we explore those? Start to explore those? If it looked like this was going to drag on we might.”
“Do I have the appetite to go through what we went through in Florida in Connecticut? Absolutely not. Is Oct. 26 an ultimatum? No,” Hewett replied.
Smith said the deal to bring Jackson Labs to the state is more than just a concept, as some lawmakers suggested. She said the administration just doesn’t have the amortization worked out just yet.
“It’s an opportunity we think is urgent to get in on the ground floor of a burgeoning industry,” Bannon said. “I think it’s an opportunity. I think we have answers to all their questions, so I hope they will be satisfied.”
Rep. Pamela Sawyer, R-Bolton, said there’s a lot of interest in the project, which is largely seen as positive for the state. However, there seemed to be more questions than answers Wednesday.