Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.

Or in our case, it is Mr. Malloy and the word is Genomes

Who could be against genomes?  We need jobs and the study of genomes will create jobs.  The only question is where and when.

On Thursday, October 20, 2011 the General Assembly will be holding a public hearing on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s plan to entice Jackson Laboratory to build our economic bridge to the 21st Century.

The legislative hearing is little more than a procedural step on the way to breaking ground.  Democratic leaders have already lined up the votes, editorial boards are singing its praises and the only remaining question is whether some Republicans will or will not join their Democratic colleagues to support Connecticut’s share of this $1.1 billion project.

According to Malloy, Jackson Laboratory “will commit $809 million toward the $1.1 billion project, through a combination of federal grants, philanthropy and service income, while the state of Connecticut will commit $291 million to the project, $192 million in a construction loan, and another $99 million in research partnership participation.”

As Malloy’s office has noted the state’s commitment would equate to $1 for every $3 of private money spent by Jackson Laboratory.

And the result of this massive investment would be jobs!

According to Malloy’s Commissioner of Economic and Community Development, Jackson Laboratory will create 661 direct jobs over the next 20 years and spin-off companies will create another 4,000 bioscience jobs. All that economic activity will also lead to more than 2,000 new retail and service jobs in the surrounding communities.

Some Republican legislators say they have reservations or questions about the project but Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s chief adviser was quoted as saying that legislators “have been given plenty of specifics on Jackson Labs” and is seems that Republicans “are bending over backwards to find a way to say ‘no.’ This is the best thing to happen to Connecticut in a long time.”

I don’t know what concerns Republicans may or may not have. Genome research is, and will continue to be, a major economic force. Putting aside the fact that the Malloy administration has already made massive budget cuts to UConn and more are on the way, there is no logical reason that Connecticut’s public research university can’t play a major role in genome research in the years to come.

In my mind the question is whether Jackson Laboratory is the right partner for Connecticut and whether this particular “deal” will work or makes sense.

Hopefully Thursday’s public hearing will answer a few of the following questions.

1. Jackson Laboratory is supposed to put up $809 million in funding for this project?

That’s a lot of money and it is certainly appropriate to ask where that money will be coming from.  Presently Jackson Laboratory’s primary revenue is from the sale of mice.  In fact, the sale of mice made up about two-thirds of its 2010 revenues of $192 million.

Apparently Jackson Laboratory is very good a growing mice. Revenue from selling mice was up about 17 percent in just the last year while government grant support was down.  According to the company’s financials and auditor’s report, the same story was true from 2008 to 2009 as well.  Mice sales up, grant support down.

The Malloy administration has said Jackson Laboratory’s investment will come from a “combination of federal grants, philanthropy and service income”.  Last year the company’s gross operating profit appears to have been in the realm of about $20 million.

2. Can federal grants be a major source of funds for this project?

Jackson Laboratory appears to have an impressive record of getting federal grants. Three weeks ago the Bangor Daily news reported that “The Jackson Laboratory has received a $24.6 million federal grant to continue operating the world’s largest database for genetic information on laboratory mice that are key to human medical research.” According to media reports “The five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health will provide funding for a program, known as the Mouse Genome Database, which directly employs 35 people (at the company’s facility in Maine.”)

It also seems that Jackson Laboratory understands how Washington works. Over the last decade it spent $650,000 in lobbying fees to a $10 million-dollar-a-year lobbying firm that now goes by the name of K&L Gates. It is never quite clear the connection lobbyists play in things, but before earmarking was prohibited Jackson Laboratory did get one of Maine’s Senators to earmark $1.6 million to the company from the Defense budget for Translational Research for Muscular Dystrophy. Of course, one assumes that Senator would want that money to be spent exclusively in Maine.

3. Will Connecticut’s $291 million investment really create that many jobs?

There is no question genome research will create jobs in the years to come. Dr. Edison T. Liu, Jackson Laboratory’s new CEO has assured people in Maine that that the new facility in Connecticut would “drive both research funding and laboratory mouse sales, thus creating more jobs here in Maine.” At the time, the new CEO pointed out that since the company opened their office in California 11 years ago, they have added more than 300 jobs in Maine and 125 in California.

When Jackson Laboratory was down in Florida hunting for state investment, a state Senator there told his colleagues that the $710 million dollar plan what would bring 420 high paying jobs to Florida in the first year and within ten years would account for more than 7,500 new jobs in the region.

4. New York City

And finally, we all know Connecticut seems to be constantly engaged in a battle with New York City to attract and keep jobs here versus there (note the recent massive commitment of taxpayer funds to get the Royal Bank of Scotland to agree not to lay off as many people in Stamford as they move more and more of their operations to NYC).

While undoubtedly it is a very different situation altogether, Connecticut legislators should inquire about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to fund a major new “Applied Sciences Campus” in the City.

Bloomberg is supposed to announce his plan by the end of the year and apparently one of the strongest proposals comes from New York University which has submitted a plan that includes the New York Genome Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Columbia University Medical Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Rockefeller University and, none other than Jackson Laboratory.

It will be interesting to see which questions will be asked and answered during Thursday’s public hearing or if the desperation for job creation will be enough to convince legislators to simply vote knowing genomes are today’s plastic.