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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

30 Million for a New Airport

The people of Florida have never read The Cargo Cult Scientist. They are debating whether or not to shell out another 30 million dollars to Scripps Research Institute. The Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies wants $21 million in county money to put its headquarters in Boca Raton, creating 189 jobs. Scripps and IBM want $9 million to help establish the world's fastest supercomputer to battle avian flu, creating 42 jobs. That's 30 million to bring in 231 workers earning an average of around 56 thousand dollars per year.

Of course local governments want to attract business, create jobs and stimulate the economy. The question is whether or not Biotechnology is the industry to invest in.

Boca Raton Commissioner Burt Aaronson noted that in 2003, the county's $200 million-plus pledge to Scripps was supposed to spark a biotech bonanza. Scripps "was supposed to be the magnet, bringing everybody here," Aaronson said. "Evidently, they're not that magnet. They bring people here asking for more money."


The same thing has happened all over the country. Biotechnology was supposed to be huge. In some areas it has been. Amgen and Genentech have generated jobs at a staggering pace. Overall however the industry has been a disaster. Maryland put up 20 million dollars to set up the Gallo Institute for Cargo Cult Alumnus Bob Gallo. Gallo had predicted 350 jobs and to be self supporting in a matter of a few years. Three years later he had 90 employees and was still dependent on tax payer money. All of his spin off companies were flops. In Seattle Paul Allen has developed a plan to bring Biotech to the South Lake Union area. So far no one has come. Even Lincoln Nebraska has started an organization to bring the industry to the cornfields.

It takes a lot of money for a company to succeed. The success of their products in human bodies is another story. What the local governments are asking for are Cargo Cult Airports hoping that the better the airport, the better the chances are of getting some cargo. It takes money even if you have a good drug. Very few biotech companies have any drug at all. They come with promises of a new and innovative technology that will change the way people look at drug development. They are all world leaders. They all promise big things. And they all come asking for money.

Florida is getting wise. The Biotechnology industry has become very good at obtaining funding. Everyone wants in on the success. But what brings success? Money? Money is suppose to go into the big idea that generates more money. However, it seems that the only money being made are by those who work for the companies who gobble up the capital. Florida is making a big step today. Scripps has been around a long time. Is it in their track record that they generate profits for the local economy? Is it worth the investment?

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