BAR HARBOR — A total of $13 million from two proposed bond issues on the November ballot would go towards major expansion at the area’s scientific labs.
If passed by Maine voters next week, Question 4 would send $10 million in state funds to The Jackson Laboratory, and Question 3 would send $3 million to the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory (MDIBL). Each bond would be matched by double its amount in private funding, potentially bringing a total of just under $30 million in economic funding to Bar Harbor.
While funds from each bond question are to be awarded through a competitive bidding process, the money is designed to go to Bar Harbor’s research institutions. Leaders from both feel confident that they would get the award, they said this week. Both bond proposals were crafted with local lab leaders and received strong bipartisan support in the Maine legislature. Governor Paul LePage toured the Jackson Lab two weeks ago to drum up support.
“I think if this is successful, it would really be a big acceleration in what we’re trying to do here,” MDIBL president Kevin Strange, Ph.D., said of Question 5. “At the end of the day, the money is competitive … but we were the ones who pushed very hard for it.”
Jackson Lab vice president Mike Hyde made similar statements concerning the direction of question 4.
“We proposed the concept behind the question to the legislature. They wanted to be fair and make it open to everybody,” Hyde said. “We think we are the most competitive outfit in the state. We think we can submit a really powerful application.”
With approval of Question 4 and the raising of the $11 million in matching funds, Jackson Lab would embark on construction of a 16,000-square-foot research center “to discover genetic solutions for cancer and the diseases of aging,” as the ballot language describes.
The center would contain all of the people and equipment required to precisely measure biological changes in mice that are related to genetic variation, Hyde said. Lab officials anticipate it would create 200 jobs over the next five years. The lab already employs more than 1,200 people in Bar Harbor.
“This would literally be the most advanced facility of this kind in the world, and we’re quite sure it would create demand from scientists all over the world,” Hyde said. “This would turn the attention of the scientific world even more to Bar Harbor than has been the case in the past.”
Passage of Question 5 would create a smaller scale, yet equally important expansion at MDIBL. The question proposes $3 million in bond funding and $5.7 million in private matching funds “to modernize and expand infrastructure in a biological laboratory specializing in tissue repair and regeneration located in the state,” as ballot language states.
The expansion plans are crucial at MDIBL, Strange said, in order for the institution to continue to receive tens of millions in federal science funding over the coming years. MDIBL has brought nearly $100 million into the state through the federal grant programs and trained thousands of Maine college students, Strange said. But in many ways, continued funding is predicated on further growth.
MDIBL would use the bond issue and private funding to construct a 3,000-square-foot training lab, construct new faculty space and expand their drug discovery efforts, Strange said. A total of 15 to 20 new, full-time jobs, comprising three research groups and support staff, would be added to MDIBL’s 65-employee roster, Strange said.
The expansion offered by the bond issues are “a great opportunity for the State of Maine,” Hyde said, where traditional industries are under pressure and new options are crucial for economic expansion.
Strange also spoke of the need for new industries in Maine and said that biomedical research holds great potential for the state.
“We’ve got to have a new kind of economy here, and I personally think Maine’s a great place to do it. There is a great quality of life here, and we can attract top candidates,” he said. “One-third of our staff is under 30 and 80 percent are Mainers. This is the kind of industry that the state really needs to develop and build.”