July 18, 2008

County Expected to OK Max Planck Research Deal Next Week: Commission Likely to Vote Tuesday

By Mark Hollis, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Jul. 18--Germany's Max Planck Society will seal a landmark "grant agreement" next week with Palm Beach County for the science giant to build a bio-imaging center that is expected to employ dozens of scientists and technicians and holds promise of helping trigger a rebound in the area's economy.

The 112-page contract, provided Thursday to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, lists how $190 million in state and local incentives, including $87 million from the county, would be spent, as well as precisely when and how the money would be disbursed.

The paperwork commits the county to selling almost $40 million in bonds by fall in the first of five bond issuances that the county would engage in to cover obligations to Max Planck. The final bond would be be issued in fall 2017.

County commissioners are expected to approve the deal on Tuesday, almost a year after officials broke news that the institute based in Munich, Germany, was interested in making scientific breakthroughs in South Florida.

The arrangement calls for Max Planck to build its U.S. headquarters in Jupiter next to Scripps Florida on Florida Atlantic University's MacArthur campus.

Local business leaders and state officials predict that the institute will support more than 1,800 jobs directly and indirectly over 20 years. It's considered likely to fuel more than $2 billion in wages and at least $5 billion in gross state product over that period, according to state economic estimates.

The contract is apart from a similar agreement already reached between the state and the research institute. The agreements provide Max Planck the ability to commercialize its discoveries with few restrictions. The bulk of the county contract covers various insurance issues and schedules for paying out incentives.

The agreement prescribes that the county is obligated to provide money for the design and construction of the research facilities. And unlike the county's agreement with Scripps, the Max Planck deal includes a commitment that the county would help finance various operational costs at the Max Planck labs. The package with Scripps only included subsidies for building labs.

A September 2007 business plan for "Max Planck Florida" that accompanies the contract touts economic and scientific benefits of locating the research center near Scripps. It states that "Scripps and Max Planck Society have agreed on synergistic research profiles aimed at improving education and healthcare" within Florida, and that this arrangement "creates the opportunity to accelerate the development of a life science cluster."

Max Planck Society, which is named after the German physicist who originated quantum theory, has been the home to 16 Nobel laureates since 1948, enjoys an annual budget of $1.6 billion and employs 12,000 staff worldwide. It pioneers research programs ranging from astronomy to the humanities, with a focus on biomedical research.

"Together, Scripps Florida and Max Planck Florida can serve as the central anchoring point for a knowledge based, sustainably blooming biotechnology landscape in Florida," the report states.

Mark Hollis can be reached at or 561-228-5512.


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