Governor opens Scripps offices/labs on FAU campus
South Florida Business Journal
After five-and-a-half years of often-painstaking work and nearly $500 million in state and Palm Beach County funding, the Scripps Research Institute marked the opening of its massive new research facility in Jupiter on Thursday.
Gov. Charlie Crist, county commissioners and the Scripps board of trustees cut the ribbon signaling the opening of the 350,000-square-feet of offices and labs on Florida Atlantic University"s campus at Abacoa. Nearly 300 Scripps employees have occupied the buildings for a month.
The spire shaped like a DNA double helix atop one of the three buildings symbolized not just the promise of new scientific breakthroughs, but also hope for a sorely needed boost to Florida"s ailing economy.
In 2003, just after the real estate boom had begun, former Gov. Jeb Bush announced that La Jolla, Calif.-based Scripps would open a branch in Palm Beach County, supported almost entirely by state and local funding. The bold bet cast the biotechnology industry as a pillar of Florida"s economic future.
After a lawsuit delayed the project and forced it from farmland in western Palm Beach County to a mixed-used development, Scripps is ramping up research in its larger labs as the state"s economy is in a freefall.
“Now, more than ever, as we face these economic challenges, we must support Florida"s growing biotech and medical industries,” Crist told the audience. “Scripps Florida isn"t just good for the health of other people; it"s important for the health of our economy.”
Dr. Phillip Frost, a Miami entrepreneur who founded Ivax Corp. and who sits on Scripps" board, said the scientists and equipment at Scripps Florida are among the best in the world.
“The discoveries they make here will contribute not just to Florida"s economy and the U.S. economy, but the whole world"s economy,” he said.
Crist cited a study that predicted Scripps Florida would create 6,500 jobs, generate about $1.6 billion in additional income and boost the state"s gross domestic product by $3.2 billion during the next 15 years.
That assumes Scripps Florida will eventually build larger facilities on a 70-acre parcel reserved for it nearby in Palm Beach Gardens.
Scripps Florida has already been awarded more than $50 million in outside grants and filed about 70 patent applications.
Dr. Harry Orf, VP for scientific operations at Scripps Florida, said it has 30 biological targets under evaluation as possible treatments. It is looking to hire at least 12 new faculty members, plus accompanying research staff, by the end of the year.
Since 2005, Scripps Florida"s presence here has generated business for companies that support the life science industry, said Mark S. Scott, a partner in the Miami office of law firm K&L Gates. He"s seen companies spin off and require help in finance and law.
“It"s beneficial to small companies to be near these type of research centers,” Scott said.
Jeff Koons, chairman of the Palm Beach County Commission, stressed that a strong educational system is needed to support Scripps so the state can feed it future scientists. Florida"s public schools and state universities have suffered through state funding cuts the last few years, and plummeting state tax revenue could lead to another funding reduction this year.
However, Crist vowed to maintain education funding in his proposed budget, which relies heavily on money from the federal stimulus bill.
Scripps President Richard Lerner praised Florida for its support, and for luring the German research organization the Max Planck Society to open a branch next door in Jupiter.
“It"s our responsibility to build the houses where science can be done, but we can only hope something will work,” Lerner said. “It"s the unpredictability of science that makes it so exciting. In these buildings, there will be world-changing advancements. But what those are we don"t yet know.”