Romancing the Genome

The love story that may spark Arizona's New Economy.

Motorola is a big hurdle for IGC to match — especially when the consortium is expected to create only about 30 jobs. ABBI, meanwhile, is projected to have about 250 employees.

Motorola's expansion into Arizona eventually generated tens of thousands of well-paying jobs and triggered billions of dollars in investments in high technology industries in Arizona.

Genomic supporters believe IGC and ABBI could have the same long term impact.

Studio Maniaverse
Richard Mallery
Richard Mallery

John Murphy, executive director of the Flinn Foundation, which is contributing $10 million to ABBI, says IGC will have a major and long-lasting impact on Arizona.

"We believe having IGC based in Arizona is the key to positioning Arizona on the international biosciences map," he says.

The Flinn Foundation will contribute another $5 million to ABBI if it is matched by another donor. The $15 million allocated to genomics research is the largest single grant in the Flinn Foundation's 37-year history.

There are reasons to be hopeful that the state's investment in IGC and ABBI will reap dividends.

The state had already allocated about $15 million a year to biosciences programs at its three universities, using money raised from Proposition 301.

When Mallery and Trent started talking about bringing IGC to Arizona, the universities decided to pool their resources and support the creation of ABBI. Rather than slowly growing ABBI from scratch, economic development officials and university leaders saw the opportunity to attract some of the top researchers in the world to ABBI.

Arizona, which ranks 41st in the nation in biosciences spending, would suddenly have world-class talent to guide the development of ABBI into a major research center if Trent and his IGC team set up permanent operations in Arizona.

"Our return on investment into ABBI happens much more quickly," says ABBI fund-raiser Steve Roman.

Trent's presence in Arizona is expected to result in millions of dollars worth of federal grants flowing into ABBI. The institutes also are expected to attract other biosciences companies to Arizona as well as talented faculty and students to the state's universities.

The hope is that the combination of IGC and ABBI will spur the creation of biosciences industry clusters in Flagstaff and Phoenix, which would join a fledgling sector emerging in Tucson.

Is Arizona expecting too much from IGC?

Larry Mahan thinks so.

Mahan is the senior biosciences executive with the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. He specializes in assessing and recruiting biotechnology companies to a state that is at least a decade ahead of Arizona in developing this sector of the economy.

Mahan says Arizona is expecting IGC to have a much greater impact on the state's economy than is realistic.

"What kind of expectations for growth of the biotechnology industry in the state can one expect from this single entity? I guess I should just say that one should be cautious," he says.

In recent weeks, there has been an effort to slightly tone down the rhetoric about IGC transforming Arizona's economy.

"I think there is a feeling that there has been a tendency on the part of the politicians to overstate the ramifications of doing this," says Jack Pfister, vice president for institutional advancement at Arizona State University.

Pfister has long been involved in economic development issues in Arizona. Prior to joining ASU, he was the general manager for Salt River Project, the state's second-largest electric utility.

Pfister, who is also a member of the Flinn Foundation's board of directors, says he's confident that IGC will implement a "solid scientific approach" that will be complimentary to work already underway at the state's universities.

At the same time, Pfister says IGC "is not going to necessarily propel Arizona into the forefront of biological sciences, but it will certainly increase its capacity several fold and therefore is worthwhile."

In the 1980s, Arizona was on the verge of constructing a domed stadium in downtown Phoenix. Mallery was playing a key role in rounding up support to build the facility near Seventh Street and Van Buren — the same location where the International Genomics Consortium and ABBI plan to build their new headquarters. The stadium deal collapsed after it was discovered that Mallery owned land near the site.

A few years later, Mallery was promoting the construction of a massive amphitheater in a north Phoenix neighborhood. That deal, too, fell apart after it was learned that Mallery had an interest in the company slated to build the facility.

In the early 1990s, Mallery represented Fife Symington in a series of crucial real estate meetings with a group of union pension funds financing a downtown development project called the Mercado. Mallery made representations about those meetings to First Interstate Bank that federal prosecutors alleged were false.

Mallery was never charged in the Symington matter, and the jury acquitted Symington on the extortion count related to the Mercado.

Now, Mallery is promoting a project that holds great promise for discovering breakthroughs in treating cancer and other diseases.

While there are disturbing signals that IGC may have some shortcomings, the broad political and private foundation support for IGC and ABBI underscore its importance.

In a state that is willing to spend $1.3 billion on football, baseball and basketball arenas that generate nominal economic impact, a $114 million investment in genomics is a check worth writing, says Phoenix City Councilman Greg Stanton.

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