Research Foundation To Expand And Add Jobs

Wednesday, September 19th 2007, 1:56 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ An independent medical research institute on Wednesday collected a $15 million state check to jump start a project expected to create 300 jobs with an annual salary of $58,000.

Gov. Brad Henry handed over the oversized mock check to officials of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and predicted the project will eventually produce 600 new jobs.

The money given the OMRF comes from the Oklahoma Opportunity Fund, a state account set up to increase economic activity in the state.

OMRF is building an 195,000 square foot, eight-story research tower on its campus near the Capitol.

The tower will cost $125 million and will house administrative offices and 300 new scientists, technicians and other staff. Construction will begin next year.

``OMRF's labs now are full, and without the new tower, we could not grow,'' said Dr. Stephen Prescott, the foundation's president. He said the state funding will speed up the project.

Prescott estimates the expansion will generate $21 million in new federal and private dollars on top of the $30 million collected from those sources a year ago.

``We will recoup the state's investment in no time at all,'' Henry said. ``We will also send the signal that Oklahoma is serious about establishing itself as the Research Capital of the Plains.''

First lady Kim Henry is a member of the foundation's board of directors and ``a tireless fundraiser and advocate for OMRF,'' her husband said.

The governor said while the state's contract with OMRF speaks of 300 new jobs, he believes the project will produce twice that amount.

``I think the governor just gave us a stretch goal,'' Prescott said.

The foundation's recent scientific accomplishments include development of the first FDA-approved drug for the treatment of blood poisoning and identification of the enzyme believed to be responsible for Alzheimer's disease.

A dozen biotechnology companies have spun off from research done at the OMRF, which holds 500 international and domestic patents.

The gift to the OMRF leaves only $5 million in the Opportunity Fund, which was set up with a $45 million appropriation in 2006.

Henry asked the Legislature for a $15 million appropriation to the fund this year, plus $200 million in bond capacity, but lawmakers rejected both proposals.

Henry said he will seek extra money for the account next year to make sure Oklahoma stays competitive with other states in economic development.

The fund was designed by state Treasurer Scott Meacham, Henry's finance secretary, based on the recommendations of economic development experts.

The decision on who gets money from the fund originally was made by a three-member board composed of the governor and the top House and Senate leaders.

A state Supreme Court ruling, however, left Henry in sole charge. The court held that the board functioned as part of the executive branch and legislators could not participate.