I remember the big ruckus ten years ago. Scripps Research Institute, the powerhouse lab from La Jolla, California, was thinking of opening a branch here in South Florida. It was going to be the catalyst for a new biotech-based economy that would free us from the boom-and-bust cycles of development and tourism. Heady comparisons were made to the Research Triangle in North Carolina.
Big shots from Southern California came to visit. They wooed Palm Beach County commissioners, who wooed them in return. Land packages—an essential ingredient in any deal involving South Florida—were assembled and prepared for competition to be the site of the biotech Mecca. Speaking of Mecca, an orange grove named Mecca Farms was one of the tracts that the county bought in anticipation. It’s still sitting out there, and the last I heard was that the county was paying for security to run off vandals.
Ultimately, after all the shenanigans, the payoffs, the backing and filling, the concessions, and the speeches were completed, the place went to Jupiter (I’m not being snide; that’s the name of the town) and the grand total of jobs created over a decade was 944, according to the Sun Sentinel story. Many of them were filled by people attracted from out of state. The price tag to Palm Beach County taxpayers was nearly half a million bucks a pop.
I did a lot of cartoons about the Scripps venture at the time, and I remember being somewhat skeptical, like so many others, of the pie-in-the-sky fantasies of our elected officials who’d had Southern California stardust scattered in their faces.
It gives me no joy, particularly as a Palm Beach County taxpayer, that the fairy tale of a thriving high-tech metropolis hasn’t come true. Some people are still saying that it may—in ten or twenty more years. I think the half-billion in state and county money would have had a more immediate and lasting spinoff effect on our economy if they’d converted it into hundred-dollar bills and crop-dusted it from helicopters.
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