by Mark Scheinbaum
American Reporter Correspondent
Boca Raton, Fla.
October 10, 2003
PSSST! GOV. JEB? WHICH COMES FIRST, BIOTECH OR EDUCATION?
BOCA RATON, Fla., Oct. 19, 2003 -- Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, has kicked off his 2008 presidential campaign with a call for the Legislature to spend $310 million to attract a new branch of California's Scripps Research Institute, and potentially 6,500 jobs.
If this works, he's a hero. If it doesn't work, it's money thrown out.
The problem omitted in the media euphoria over the news (in a parade of " exclusive tv interviews, the governor even wished a newsreader at Scripps-owned WPTV a happy birthday) is the one of "been there, done that."
Been there, done that?
How can anyone be negative about a $3.2 billion project which will lead to new graduate programs in biotechnology in Boca-based Florida Atlantic University? Opposed to high-paying, low-polluting jobs? Educated families?
That's the point. Mismanagement of higher education funding in Florida has proven time and time again that cutting-edge technology follows - repeat, follows - long-term commitment to postgraduate study.
You don't keep these jobs with a third-rate educational system.
Depending on which sad report you read, Florida usually ranks 47th out of the 51 states and District of Columbia in high-school kids who actually graduate.
Again, depending upon which campus is lobbying in Tallahassee, few of the disciplines, or subjects taught in the Florida State University System are ranked in the top 10 in their field. Florida professors over the years have fled to Texas, New York, California, and even South Carolina and Louisiana for better opportunities.
I want the plan to work. I want FAU to be a first class institution. I'm happy that a non-academic, former Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan played a part in the Scripps decision.
But there needs to be more than $310 million to keep the best and brightest high school graduates in the state; expand, not reduce the Bright Futures Scholarship Program, and fund more graduate programs, particularly medical schools.
Where does a 40-year old PhD in microbiology go after he or she moves from California to Florida? Where do they take advanced courses? Where do they apply for teaching fellowships close to home? Where do they share refereed journal research and chat at conferences? South Florida?
The brother of President George W. Bush wants Scripps to build a 360,000 square foot research lab more than one hour north of the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital and medical school complex. Heading north it's six hours to the next world class facility at Shands/UF in Gainesville. Since Jeb Bush's administration continues to crush mass transit programs, the University of South Florida Medical School in Tampa, is also way, way too far away.
Now, what the hell do I know? I'm just a glorified stock broker.
Oh, I forget to mention. I taught at USF and UF, headed the Career Service Employee Federation for state university employees, and was an international rep for AFSCME for non-teaching and professional empoloyees (including researchers) on the nine state college campuses. Prior to that I was in the charter group of reps and staffers with the United Faculty of Florida, AFT, AFL-CIO.
Turn the clock back to the late 1970's to the tale of Glaxo-Wellcome (now GlaxoSmithKline).
Glaxo, second or third largest pharmaceutical company in the world, made its administrative headquarters in Fort Lauderdale. Few unions, low costs, right to work rules, and sun and fun for employees, made the British-based drug company take Broward County inducements and incentives, and talk about expanding its South Florida operations.
Within a few years the highest-paid researchers were leaving.
"Florida is great for a 55-year-old looking to retire, but for young up-and-coming researchers it's a dead end," one scientist told me.
"I was spending many weekends in Chicago or Atlanta or New York at conferences; there were no advanced programs at any university nearby where I could grow my knowledge. It takes a Johns Hopkins, or New York, or Houston, or Boston, to keep ahead of the curve, not Fort Lauderdale."
Glaxo in the mid-'80s packed up and headed to North Carolina.
An isolated incident?
The personal computer was not invented in Boca Raton, but it was perfected here. IBM pooled the best and the brightest. Siemens and other companies flocked to Boca Raton to be part of the miracle of a new Silicon Valley or Boston's Route 128 down here in the sunshine. St. Andrews School - then considered the finest prep school in the Southeast, attracted the sons and daughters of families geared for success. The future scientific leaders were here.
In 10 years the Research Triangle of Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and the growing banking and commercial center of Charlotte lured IBM operations north.
"K-12 education was on a level which only the most expensive private school in Florida could provide. I'm talking public education in North Carolina, free education," one former client, an IBM engineer who sold his house in Wellington, and headed to Charlotte told me.
It's all part of the boom-and-bust pattern. Old retirees who paid their taxes and dues up north aren't thrilled with high taxes or income taxes (Florida has none) to build first-class schools. Teachers, highly paid by some standards, lack professional standing and still subsidize their classrooms. And, of course the legislature turns university presidents into supplicants, stripped even of a powerful Board of Regents as intermediary.
In summation, elect me to the Florida Legislature and I'll vote "yes" on the $310 million in incentives to get Scripps to Boca Raton. But only if it follows passage of a bill providing $310 million for scholarships, pay increases, and capital expenditures for medical graduate programs.
Mark Scheinbaum says he's "paid to manage risk, not create it" at Kaplan & Co. Securities www.kaplansecurities.com in Boca Raton.