Florida's decade-old incentive program to lure research institutions is going belly up
A decade ago Florida Governor Jeb Bush played a leading role in doling out incentives to attract some of the world’s top-ranked research institutions to the state. But overall the initiative has fallen woefully short on the promise of new biotech jobs created, and a new generation of state leaders is cutting off the cash.
The latest to be affected by the backlash: The Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies. The state Department of Economic Opportunities is transferring $3.5 million in outstanding incentive payments over to the general-revenue fund, according to the Palm Beach Post. But so long as the institute can maintain its operations, which they’ve promised at least through 2017 — the state won’t be repossessing any of the equipment it purchased.
Torrey Pines reportedly has a staff of about 85, less than half the 189 required in its deal with the state.
Florida officials may not be as forgiving with Sanford Burnham. The state is looking for $77.5 million of the $350 million in incentives handed over a decade ago, along with equipment. Sanford Burnham had been trying to work out a deal to hand the institute over to the University of Florida, but that deal fell through.
Like the other institutions, Sanford Burnham pledged a commitment to maintain operations for 20 years while adding new jobs for the state in R&D, a key initiative aimed at building a biotech hub in the state. But it’s way behind on jobs, in debt and likely to pull out, leaving state officials preparing for a legal battle.
“Be assured that the state of Florida will thoroughly investigate and prosecute all available claims against” Sanford Burnham Prebys, the state said in a recent letter, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
A variety of state initiatives have been tried in recent years for biotech, with little success. California funded billions of dollars in stem cell research, with little to show for it. And Texas’ initiative to back cancer research in the Lone Star state has been plagued with accusations of insider dealing and favoritism.