Malloy, Lawmakers Defend Investment in Bioscience
“Would it kill you to have it done before Election Day?” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy asked the project manager as the two stood on a bridge Wednesday overlooking the new Ambulatory Care Center at the University of Connecticut Health Center campus in Farmington.
“Uhhh . . . We could get that done,” Patrick Mulroy, the Jacobs Engineering Co. project manager, told Malloy. The project, which includes a 300,000-square-foot ambulatory care facility, has been scheduled for completion in December 2014. It’s being privately financed to the tune of $203 million.
“We’re on time. We’re on budget. Everything is going really well,” Mulroy told Malloy.
Malloy, who was half-joking when he made the comment, has not announced his 2014 re-election bid. However, there’s no one in the Democratic Party looking to challenge him and it’s been 60 years since Connecticut voters ousted a sitting governor, so the odds seem to be in his favor if he chooses to run.
In the meantime, Malloy said he’s happy to make the investment in the campus. The project, which includes new research facilities and incubator space, was started under former Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s administration. Malloy added to it in 2011. With the help of the legislature, Malloy was able to get about $254 million in bonding approved to add to the $362 million already approved by the legislature in 2010.
“They debated the replacement of beds for about 10 years,” Malloy said. “I mean they couldn’t get out of their way.”
During that period, the state saw a decline in a bioscience industry that internationally was growing at a rate of 11 percent per year, he said.
“You can blame me for this, or you can give me the credit for it. One or the other. But this is a hallmark of my administration. I’m very proud of what we’re doing on this campus,” Malloy said after a ceremonial bill signing fpr the creation of a $200 million bioscience fund. “We needed to make these investments.”
The fund will be administered by Connecticut Innovations, the quasi-public investment entity headed by Claire Leonardi.
For bioscience and other high-tech industries the future is in innovation, Leonardi said Wednesday during the ceremonial bill signing.
“Bio-tech innovation requires three things. First, it requires talent with deep knowledge of a wide range of fields . . . Second, it requires collaboration . . . Lastly, innovation requires investment. In the last 20 years while other states and countries invested a huge amount in the emerging cluster of bioscience, Connecticut did not,” Leonardi said.
Malloy said his administration is trying to close that gap in funding.
“The new Bioscience Connecticut fund will build upon the significant investment the state has already made in the UConn Health Center and Jackson Labs,” Commissioner Catherine Smith of the Department of Economic and Community Development said. “The fund will promote economic development by allowing investments in translational research, emerging technologies, and new companies.”
Aside from the ambulatory care center, the project will help renovate 238,000 square feet of existing research facilities to double bioscience research funding from $100 million to $200 million annually. It also creates 28,000 square feet of new incubator space to foster new business start-ups.
The project has created about 700 construction jobs in the first year and 82 percent of the work has gone to Connecticut-based contractors, according to officials. The number of construction jobs is expected to increase to 3,000 over the next three years.
The two new state facilities are adjacent to the 189,000-square-foot Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, which broke ground in January. The state invested $291 million in state bond funds in the lab, which is expected to open in 2014.
The nonprofit company has awarded bid packages totaling $108 million for the construction of the new facility. Of that figure, 87 percent — more than $94 million — has been awarded to companies headquartered or with regional offices in Connecticut. It has awarded nearly $30 million in contracts to small businesses and minority-owned companies.
The lab already employs 45 people in Connecticut and has offers out to another 25 employees. Within 10 years it’s expected to hire 300 employees. The facility will house research laboratories, offices for scientists and administrators, conference areas to support scientific collaboration, and leading-edge genome analysis technology.
The lab recently extended an invitation to Connecticut lawmakers to visit its headquarters in Bar Harbor, Maine this October.
“I have no problem with that. I think this is a massive investment and there are probably additional steps the legislature is going to be asked or required to take in the future,” Malloy said. “An informed leadership team — there’s nothing wrong with that.”
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, who will be unable to attend the outing in Bar Harbor, said the more legislators know about where that investment is going the better.
“We have a job to do and we need to know as much as we can on whatever we’re acting on,” Sharkey said. “Obviously it’s a continuing commitment to bioscience in Connecticut.”
He said his office made it clear the trip would need to be something the legislators did on their own in compliance with the Office of State Ethics.
Mike Hyde, vice president for external affairs and strategic partnerships, said last week that lawmakers, who are invited to bring a guest, would need to pay their own travel expenses. The laboratory hopes to host at least one dinner for its guests and plans to reserve a block of hotel rooms at a discounted rate.
Rep. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, said the University of Connecticut in collaboration with Jackson Laboratory was already able to secure a $3.2 million osteoporosis research grant from the National Institutes of Health.
He said that grant is “evidence of that kind of synergy coming into play.”
Hwang was one of the only Republican lawmakers in attendance Wednesday, but as vice chairman of the Life Sciences Caucus he said that bioscience investment should not be a partisan issue.
“It will help us create high-paying, value-added jobs,” Hwang said.