From The Gainesville Sun - by Morgan Watkins
A biomedical technology company aiming to remedy a global medical isotope shortage might settle in the city of Alachua, creating 164 high-paying jobs and making a capital investment of more than $227 million.
Coqui RadioPharmaceuticals Corp. plans to establish and operate a Molybdenum-99 medical isotope production facility, which would include two research-scale nuclear reactors.
There is a global shortage of Molybdenum-99, which is used in nuclear medicine to diagnose diseases such as renal disease, cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
Alachua is on a three-state shortlist of potential locations along with sites in Louisiana and Tennessee.
The company has applied for the Qualified Target Industry program, a tax refund program contingent on job creation through which the state provides 80 percent of the financial incentive and local governments cover the other 20 percent.
This week, both the Alachua County Commission and Alachua City Commission approved their portions of the local match, which respectively amount to $114,800 payable over a three-year period pending job creation.
Coqui has pledged to create 164 jobs in Florida paying an average of $75,500 annually, excluding executive management, according to its application. Those jobs also would include average benefits totaling $20,300.
The City Commission unanimously approved the request, while the County Commission voted 4-1 with Commissioner Mike Byerly in dissent. Byerly said he disagrees with the QTI program because he thinks it is inappropriate for government to give money to private businesses and that there isn't a fair, ethical way to do that.
The company also plans to make a capital investment of $227,680,000 over four years, which includes expenses for construction and manufacturing equipment.
The biopharmaceutical company Nanotherapeutics, which is nestled in Alachua, was the last business that provided a big capital investment like this, said Edgar Campa-Palafox, the county's economic development coordinator. But Coqui is promising almost $80 million more than the $150 million capital investment pledged by Nanotherapeutics.
A huge capital investment like Coqui's would impact the property tax rolls of both the city and county governments and benefit both entities, he said.
Kevin Tilbury — a planner with Gresham, Smith and Partners, the architecture and engineering firm assisting Coqui with the site-selection process — said the U.S. gets its supply of Molybdenum-99 either overseas or from a reactor in Canada that will be decommissioned shortly.
Coqui's facility will be the first of its kind in the nation, according to the company's application. It would be one of national and even international importance as a source for this product both domestically and overseas.
"Right now, there are not production capabilities in the United States for the medical radioisotopes that Coqui would produce," Tilbury said.
The company's nuclear reactors wouldn't be the first in Alachua County. UF has a research reactor, although Coqui's reactors would be larger but still within research-reactor parameters, according to the company's application.
Tilbury anticipates the company probably will reach a decision within a matter of either several weeks or a few months.
"The clock is ticking. It's going to take a while to license the facility, build the facility and to start producing, and so time is of the essence," he said.
Adam Boukari, assistant city manager for Alachua, said Coqui would provide a good range of job opportunities. Around 80-87 of the positions would be semi-skilled jobs, while others would require higher-level degrees.
The immediate impact if Coqui comes to Alachua would center on the construction of the facility, but that would reverberate through the local economy, Tilbury said. Coqui will do research and development work as well as production, so there could be opportunities for collaboration with the University of Florida. Related businesses might spring up around the company's new home as well.
The city of Alachua is a top contender since there is already a culture around nuclear research because of UF and an opportunity for partnerships there, Tilbury said. The state also has provided an attractive incentive package and puts an emphasis on biomedical research.
Coqui also is looking at a potential capital investment tax credit of $11,384,000 a year from fiscal year 2018 through fiscal year 2027, as well as a $1 million high impact performance incentive grant, according to its application.
Coqui also could heighten Alachua's visibility as an emerging hub for the bioscience and biomedical industries. Nanotherapeutics put Alachua on the map in that community, he said, and this company would further elevate its profile.
Whether Coqui will decide to come to Alachua remains uncertain, but Boukari is confident the city's chances are good.
"Alachua County has so much to offer. Just the fact that we have such a great research institution at the University of Florida … that's a huge draw for these types of companies," he said. "We're a very strong candidate."
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