Malloy touts bioscience investments at health center

Midway through his tour of the construction projects that dot the UConn Health Center’s Farmington campus, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy paused to learn some details about one of the buildings, an outpatient care center slated to open in December 2014.

And to make a request.

“Would it kill you to have it done before Election Day?” Malloy asked the building’s project manager, Patrick Mulroy.

Connecticut’s economic recovery has been sluggish, not the easiest talking point for re-election. But the health center campus offers a concentrated glimpse at Malloy’s economic development strategy, with hundreds of construction jobs created by state-funded projects and longer-term hopes that a flourishing bioscience industry will emerge from the more than $1 billion Connecticut has put into luring companies and building labs and other facilities.

On Wednesday, the governor –- who has not declared whether he’ll be seeking another term next year –- toured the health center’s work-in-progress development and held a ceremonial bill signing for the latest bioscience measure, a $200 million investment fund aimed at helping small companies with grants, loans and other financial assistance over 10 years.

Claire Leonardi, CEO of Connecticut Innovations, which will administer the fund, said it’s intended to target the “valley of death” -- that is, the segment of development where ideas tend to die. The goal is to use the money to help companies move forward to bring good ideas to market and stay in Connecticut while doing so, she said.

Malloy described bioscience as a rapidly growing industry, but one that Connecticut had failed to attract because, in the past, leaders hadn’t made the investments necessary to sustain the growth. That’s changed, he said.

“We are making the kinds of investments in the state of Connecticut that will allow us to grow in the next 20 years the way we should’ve grown in the last 22 years,” he said.

Malloy’s walking tour took him by the construction site of the new outpatient center, an unfinished 8-story building that will include exam rooms, faculty offices and conference rooms. The $203 million building, along with a parking garage set to open in November, are being financed privately, through TIAA-CREF.

The governor, followed by a horde of aides, reporters, photographers, legislators, health center faculty staff, faculty and officials, strolled through lab space and caught a glimpse of the construction outside John Dempsey Hospital, which is slated to get a major renovation and a new, 11-story patient tower.

It’s part of the $864 million Bioscience Connecticut plan Malloy proposed and signed in his first year in office. The plan followed years of failed attempts to craft a politically feasible way to improve Dempsey’s outdated facilities and the health center’s perennial financial woes. The price tag drew opposition from some legislators, as did the way it sped through the legislative process, receiving final approval just three weeks after the governor proposed it.

At the time, Malloy pitched the plan as an economic development measure, with projections that it would create about 3,000 construction jobs a year between 2012 and 2018, and 16,400 jobs by 2037. And it drew strong support from construction trade unions, whose workers had been hurting for jobs.

Ed Reilly, president of the Greater Hartford-New Britain Building Trades Council, said Wednesday that three years ago, unemployment was 50 percent in the building trades in Connecticut. He thanked Malloy and the legislature for helping to reduce that figure and said the state’s economy was on the right track, although he noted that “we’re not fully employed today.”

Bioscience Connecticut created about 700 construction and related jobs in its first year, and the number is expected to “rise significantly” in the next three years, according to Malloy’s office.

Down the hill from the hospital, Malloy passed by the frame of what will become the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, the Connecticut headquarters for the Maine-based genomics firm Jackson Laboratory. The Malloy administration persuaded Jackson officials to come to Connecticut with the help of $291 million in state funds. In exchange, Jackson agreed to create at least 300 jobs within 10 years, including 90 senior scientists. Some critics of the plan raised questions about the price, saying it was too high for the number of guaranteed jobs. The Malloy administration has said the arrangement will ultimately help to generate 6,800 jobs.

The Jackson facility is scheduled to open in the fall of 2014. About 45 Jackson employees are already working in temporary space on the health center campus, and another 20 to 25 are expected to be hired soon.

UConn recently announced the first of 10 faculty members expected to be appointed between the university and Jackson.

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