Wielding a new report by a local think-tank with close ties to Yale organized labor, Republican mayoral challenger Joel Schiavone ’58 has accused the University administration and current Mayor John DeStefano Jr. of failing to turn the city’s investment in biotechnology into the widespread economic blessing it was made out to be.
The 17-page report by the Connecticut Center for a New Economy says biotech startups have brought few jobs and tax benefits to the city, with Yale as the companies’ only beneficiary. According to the report, entitled “Yale Prospers, New Haven Waits,” New Haven has served as a “stepping stone for Yale to turn patents into profits” while the “broader promise of biotech remains unfulfilled.”
Schiavone said New Haven residents have not benefited because the companies require employees with high levels of education.
“All we’ve been hearing from the current administration is biotech, biotech, biotech,” he said in an interview Saturday.
Schiavone’s use of the report as a weapon in the battle for City Hall seems ironic because many of the think-tank’s board members are affiliated with the Yale unions that recently endorsed DeStefano.
The center’s director, Andrea Cole, is a leader of the Greater New Haven Labor Council, and its board includes the Rev. W. David Lee, who is seeking a position on the Yale Corporation with $30,000 in financial support from the University unions. The center operates out of the same 425 College St. building as locals 34 and 35 and the Graduate Employees and Students Organization.
Julio Gonzalez ’99, DeStefano’s campaign manager, said much of the report was accurate but maintained that the mayor had little direct control over the city’s biotech woes, particularly because the tax credits given to biotech companies are meted out at the state and federal levels.
“I don’t think anyone in the administration thinks biotech is going to solve all of New Haven’s problems,” he said. “But many of the problems, like transportation and taxes, we have to address in Hartford.”
Schiavone and DeStefano will likely square off over the biotech issue at tonight’s mayoral debate. Co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the New Haven Colony Historical Society, the debate will begin at 7 p.m. at the historical society.
New Haven’s biotechnology industry revolves around the 500,000-square-foot George Street Technology Center and the 80-acre Science Park, which was founded in 1981 in the Newhallville neighborhood.
Through its Office of Cooperative Research, the University finds commercial outlets for the scientific discoveries of its professors and researchers by selling patent rights, often to local startups like those at Science Park.
According to the report, this process almost always benefits Yale while New Haven only shares in the rewards if the start-ups choose to remain in the city. The report points to the recent departures of Cellular Genomics and Alexion Pharmaceuticals for new facilities in Branford and Cheshire, respectively, as evidence that companies are not staying.
Science Park is situated a mile northwest of the New Haven Green on land once owned by the U.S. Repeating Arms Company, maker of Winchester rifles and once the city’s largest employer.
Since Cambridge-based biotech developer Lyme Properties took over the project in December 2000, the report’s authors say the city has failed to produce the results it promised.
The authors also accuse many of the companies of failing to pay city taxes.
According to the report, CuraGen, a company that opened a facility in New Haven in 1997 but recently moved its operations back to Branford, received a special tax break from the Connecticut General Assembly in 2000 that absolved it of “a quarter million of its tax burden.”
Gonzalez said New Haven’s biotech companies contribute a “relatively small amount” to the city’s overall budget, but added that without them, even that small amount would not be collected.