Governor Dannel P. Malloy and Ed Liu, President & CEO of Jackson Laboratory celebrating the progress of JAX in Connecticut.
Governor Dannel P. Malloy and Edison Liu, President & CEO of Jackson Laboratory, celebrating the progress of JAX in Connecticut.

Farmington – State officials announced Tuesday they are forgiving $165.9 million in loans to Jackson Laboratory (JAX) because it has surpassed its 10 year goals for employment just four years after opening its doors on the UConn Health campus.

The state money was used to construct the lab’s 185,000 square foot, state-of-the-art building. The state signed a $291 million deal with Jax in 2012 that included $99 million in grants and $192 million in secured, forgivable loans in the hopes that the company would promote the growth of the bioscience industry in Connecticut.

The loan balance forgiven by the state represents 86 percent of the $192 million in total forgivable loans offered to Jax as an incentive to build here. Connecticut Innovations’ board of directors voted June 26 to write off the loan balance, but state officials waited until Tuesday to make a public announcement.

“We recognize that Jackson is a full partner with the state in our economic development endeavors and I wanted to be on the campus to publically say thank you for what you’ve done, how excited we were four years ago when the campus opened its doors, how excited we were seven years ago when we were having this discussion, and how excited we are about the future,” said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy during a press conference at the company’s headquarter’s Tuesday.

Seven years ago, when discussions began between Malloy, the Department of Economic and Community Development and JAX, the lab promised to employ a minimum of 300 people, 30 percent of whom would have salaries at or above 125 percent of the state average wage within 10 years. Today, 385 individuals work at JAX, including 29 research faculty.

Since Malloy took office, state officials said, nearly 85,000 new jobs have been created, including those at JAX. Since 2014, when JAX opened its doors in Connecticut, the state has risen from 9th to 6th in the State Technology and Science Index rankings, according to the Milken Institute.

“Initially it was not easy to get new talent in because there was no reputation or history behind (JAX in Connecticut),” said Charles Lee, scientific director and professor at JAX, adding that times have changed since 2012, when Jax received an incentive from the state to build its Farmington facility.  “In essentially five years, we not only have wonderful faculty, but we are bringing in lots of new funding.”

JAX has brought in $17 million in new funds since it started its Connecticut operation. Just this month, the company received two new grants totaling nearly $3 million from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the National Institute of Health.

Governor Dannel P. Malloy outside Jackson Laboratory in Farmington.

And that future will – according to JAX President and CEO Edison Liu – definitely be in Connecticut.

While other bioscience companies such as Alexion Pharmaceuticals, which relocated from New Haven to Boston last year, have been moving out of Connecticut, Liu said JAX is “here for the long haul.”

“Quite frankly we are busting at the seams. We are looking for places to expand,” Liu said. “Only in Connecticut.”

Currently, there are no concrete plans for that expansion, but the Farmington building is only designed for 325 employees, 60 fewer than already work there.

JAX has four areas of research including cancer, immunology, genetics and the microbiome. According to Lee, the main focus of research expansion at JAX is the microbiome – the collection of microorganisms that live in and on all humans.

The Jackson Laboratory at the University of Connecticut Health Center campus in Farmington. file photo

“The microbiome is opening up opportunities and, based on the data that’s rolling in, I can see not only excellent science but a lot of companies coming out of that research. I would love to see those nearby,” Lee said.

JAX employs four research faculty members who focus on the microbiome and Lee is looking to expand that this year.

“We really are here to stay,” said Lee. “I think it’s important that the greater community see the importance of what we do here.”

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