Hillsborough OKs $6 million to lure company to USF
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07/16/08 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:

The Hillsborough County Commission voted unanimously today to spend $6 million to help lure a Massachusetts weapons and biotechnology company to open a research lab the University of South Florida. Draper Laboratories is also considering starting a manufacturing facility in Pinellas County.

Gene Gray, director of Hillsborough County’s Economic Development Department, told the Commission that the company, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, should receive $6 million from the county because Draper is considering opening a micromachine research lab at USF.

“[Draper] has proposed expanding a $20 million nanotechnology and BioMEMS research and development facility on the campus of the University of South Florida. The project will be done in partnership with Hillsborough County, the University of South Florida, as well as the state of Florida. Commissioners, this is a true regional economic development project involving Pinellas County as well as USF with state match funding coming to both components of the project: the R&D facility at USF as well as the manufacturing facility to be located in Pinellas County, if approved.”

Draper would receive a total of $20 million for the Hillsborough-USF portion of the project, Gray said. That does not include the costs USF has already paid for construction of the 20,000-square-foot building that Draper would occupy. The funds would be spent to purchase equipment for Draper and set up laboratories, according to Gray.

“Funding for the Hillsborough County-USF component of the project is as follows: Hillsborough County: $6 million from the capital project reserve account for economic development projects in the proposed fiscal year '09 budget; USF Research Foundation: $4 million; state of Florida Innovation Incentive Fund: match funding of $10 million.”

The money would translate into high tech jobs for at least 10 years, Gray said.

“The project will directly generate at least 100 jobs with an average wage exceeding $75,000. Draper is expected to generate $150 million to 300 million increase in research grants in Hillsborough County which leverages USF’s research capacities in nanotechnology. Our economic impact modeling projects that 111-171 additional or indirect jobs will be generated as a result of this project. Estimated overall cumulative economic impact ranges from $204 million to $337 million within five years of ramp up.”

According to its website, as part of its research and manufacturing, Draper manufactures surveillance systems, “Navy and Air Force strategic missile guidance capabilities,” and “critical needs of tactical forces in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.” Gray said there are still additional hurdles that have to be cleared before Draper decides whether to open a lab at USF.

Amy Schwenker, external communications manager at Draper Laboratories said "Draper is looking at several locations in a number of states as possible sites for us to expand.”

Draper’s predecessor was the Instrumentation Laboratory of MIT. But in1970, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology divested itself of Draper because of protests from faculty, students, and members of the anti-war community of Draper’s role in the U.S. war against Vietnam. Draper moved off campus in 1973.

USF’s President Judy Genshaft told the Commissioners her university is excited to partner with Draper.

“It comes together with all that we do in terms of our drug development and neuro work, all that we do. So we’re very excited about it. I know the company is pleased with it. The head of the whole project called and said, ‘I think things are about to pop.’”

The county’s $6 million would be held by the USF Research Foundation, which would use it and the additional public money for Draper’s lab space. Before he voted to approve the funding, Hillsborough Commissioner Mark Sharpe praised the company.

“They have been very involved and instrumental in developing inertial navigation systems. They were involved in the Apollo Program, the Polaris Program.”

The seven commissioners voted unanimously to give Draper $6 million.

Learn more:

Draper Laboratories

Hillsborough County Economic Development Department

USF

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