Bill puts focus on region's bioscience, pharmaceutical resources

A delegation of southeastern Connecticut legislators have introduced a bill they hope will draw attention, and perhaps funding, to existing talents and facilities in the bioscience and pharmaceutical fields.

State Rep. Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford, said that in light of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's targeted investments elsewhere in the state, it's good time to formulate a plan that shines a light on southeastern Connecticut.

"It comes from concerns I have had about attracting state support to help emerging and new businesses," Ritter said. "We have buildings, labs, people, brains and training. There are several small businesses, entrepreneurs that spun off from Pfizer. All of these things have good opportunity for synergy."

The bill would require the Department of Economic and Community Development to develop a model plan to support bioscience and pharmaceutical start-up and emerging businesses. The plan would include "quick response mechanisms, safeguards for appropriate use, targeted incentives, business formation support resources and strong integration with existing regional assets."

Recent announcements, which have not included southeastern Connecticut, include a partnership between The Jackson Laboratory and the state to create a new genomic medicine laboratory on the University of Connecticut Health Center's lower campus in Farmington. More recently, Malloy proposed $1.5 billion in bonding and $137 million in general fund spending for UConn, in part to upgrade science, technology, engineering and math facilities at campuses in Storrs and Stamford.

Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, said Malloy's investments should create job opportunities statewide.

"We're betting a lot of money on it statewide. I think this region could share in it if we have a cohesive, thought-out strategy," Maynard said. "On this side of the state, Groton has been one of the central areas for research and production. With Pfizer changing its model and moving people … we have an opportunity to capture some of the scientists that spun out on their own, offer them an opportunity to participate in what we hope will be a huge explosion (in the bioscience field)."

"It's time to get a strategy together to face these new realities that have cost us," Maynard said.

Ritter said local legislators are also concerned about the future of Pfizer's massive former research and development complex in Groton, which is on the market. Pfizer has said it plans to demolish the building if a buyer is not found, a move that would result in a $2 million annual tax loss to Groton.

"If this calls attention to that discussion and maybe changes our ability to keep that building alive - we'd be all the better for it," Ritter said of the bill.

Tony Sheridan, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, said local town leaders continue to work with the state Department of Economic and Community Development on some promising leads that could bring future activity at the site.

Sheridan, who congratulated legislators on taking the initiative to try and capture more of a share of the state money in the bioscience field, was optimistic about statewide plans. He expected more announcements in the future that would include southeastern Connecticut.

State Rep. Ted Moukawsher, D-Groton, said UConn's technology incubation program at the Avery Point campus in Groton offers a model for some of the business start-ups with former Pfizer employees the area is looking to attract.

"It's a good concept - trying to leverage some of the scientific talent in the area," Moukawsher said.

In addition to the incubator program, Avery Point this summer will launch a new accelerated teacher certification program. The program will allow students with a bachelor's degree to earn a master's in education and certification for teaching in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. About 20 people are expected to be involved in the program's first year.

"We've had investments around the state - elsewhere," Moukawsher said. "We've had a major center for science and bioscience in Groton that has been diminished. We're trying to leverage some of the scientific talent in the area. We're a little forgotten here."

Ritter said the bill is moving to the committee on commerce, and a public hearing will soon be scheduled.

"I'm looking forward to hearing from the greater southeastern Connecticut community about how to go forward," Ritter said. "As a group, we're hopeful to get something to happen."


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