Governor says local bioscience bill may be too ‘homegrown,’ ‘narrow’

Hartford — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Wednesday that maybe the reason the state economic development commissioner did not support a bill focusing on bioscience development in southeastern Connecticut was because it is too region-specific.

Legislators and business people from southeastern Connecticut testified Tuesday in favor of House Bill 5460, which directs the department create a plan for emerging bioscience and pharmaceutical businesses in southeastern Connecticut. A number supporters said some of the $200 million proposed in the governor's initiative for bioscience innovation could be spent in southeastern Connecticut.

The region has faced a slower economic recovery than much of the state and was left out of the governor's proposal to spend about $1.5 billion for science, technology, engineering and mathematics expansions at University of Connecticut campuses.

"So the idea that the legislature should pass specific, homegrown requirements that we come up with a way to do it in their areas, as opposed to what is very clearly a unified effort — across all counties, all municipalities, the whole state — may be a reason that she thought that wasn't a good idea," Malloy said at a press conference.

"I understand why they proposed it, and we aren't saying you can't propose it. We are saying put all the eggs in a bigger basket, and it will help the whole state," DECD Commissioner Catherine Smith said on Wednesday.

The commissioner did confirm that the department has been in talks with Pfizer for months.

It is up to the "will of the legislature" as to whether a bill focused on southeastern Connecticut gets passed, said Paul Mounds, director of government affairs for the governor's office. Thirteen legislators are co-sponsors of the bill.

But Smith remains against it.

"That one is too narrow, and that is why I am not supporting it," she said. "It's not that I don't support bioscience in southeast Connecticut. I do, fully. It's just we need to be thinking about this statewide."

She said having Pfizer helps them sell the entire state as a bioscience center. She also said the department has been working to reuse the pharmaceutical company's facilities.

"We are working quite closely with Pfizer to help them attract, not tear down the buildings, and redeploy them in a way that would be good for the local economy," she said.

Malloy said Monday that a deal could create opportunities for scientists to use the former Pfizer laboratories and for Avery Point to expand.

"We want bioscience in Connecticut everywhere," he said on Wednesday, adding that the state has led in this industry in the past, but failed to invest in recent years.

"I think a clear sign of Connecticut's failure to have made appropriate investment was when Pfizer moved 440 jobs from Connecticut in the southeast portion of the state to the Cambridge area," Malloy said. "We are doing everything in our power to address that, including in the southeastern portion of the state… in every county."

If the governor's $200 million bioscience initiative, dispersed over 10 years, were to pass, small businesses, individual researchers, universities and hospitals could apply for the funds, Smith said.

The goal of the fund is to help the state move from basic research to "transitional research," taking great ideas and moving them to commercialization," she said. The funds are also for building infrastructure, she said.

A committee of experts will have the decision-making power as to who gets what, Smith said.

She acknowledged that a lot of scientists have left Pfizer but are still in the region.

"We think this is a great opportunity for them," she said. … "I see a great opportunity for hospitals to come in with a small company or researcher to do clinical testing."

j.somers@theday.com

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