As published as an opinion by Foothills Media Group, July 18, 2011.

Why We Voted to Expand the UConn Health Center

By State Rep. Linda Schofield and State Sen. Kevin Witkos

Although there has been some controversy about Gov. Malloy’s proposal to expand the UConn Health Center, we both voted to invest additional funding to transform the health center into a leading national academic and medical center.

The UConn Health Center currently includes medical and dental schools, the John Dempsey Hospital, research facilities, and various outpatient services.

The planned expansion project — Bioscience Connecticut — includes new construction and renovations at existing facilities in Farmington. This will allow UConn to increase its current bioscience research capacity, increase the number of scientists, and expand incubator facilities to encourage new business start-ups.

Jobs — around 3,000 construction jobs — will be created in the short term, but more importantly jobs will be created in the long term. Not just any jobs, but high-paying jobs in one of the few growth industries — health care. This includes not only the 683 jobs at the health center itself — faculty, nurses, doctors, researchers, etc. — but also hundreds of new private sector jobs in spin-off companies that arise from shared research and patents.

Thousands of new well-paying jobs in the Farmington Valley are good for our towns and our property values.

This project does not increase total borrowing by the state. We are just doing less bonding for other projects around the state to make room for this vital investment.

Gov. Malloy’s proposal builds on Gov. Rell’s plan, which was authorized last year. Under Rell’s proposal, the state already committed to spend $365 million to overhaul the health center complex, which was originally built in 1961.

The new funding — $294 million — approved this year, will go towards increasing enrollment at the medical and dental schools to help assure an adequate supply of health care professionals to meet forecasted shortages, especially in primary care.

In addition, the existing medical and dental clinics will be expanded with new funding, offering increased access to affordable services for Farmington Valley residents who lack health insurance or have limited insurance benefits.

Fifty new adult inpatient beds will also be added — although that’s only a net of 10 beds, since 40 NICU beds are to be transferred to the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford.

Last, the new funding builds our capacity for innovation:

A recent study has shown that almost all job growth in the United States is driven by start-ups.

Job creation at newer companies is more stable during recessions, according to the same study, while jobs at older businesses are extremely susceptible to economic downturns.

This means, if we want to end job stagnation in Connecticut and move the state’s economy forward, then we need to increase incubator facilities that cultivate start-up businesses. Bioscience Connecticut does just that — it provides space and support for early-stage companies, and it expands the center’s research capacity to generate more patents.

Lack of money often stands in the way of transforming good ideas or new technology into viable businesses. Bioscience Connecticut means that more lab space, equipment and other resources necessary for research and development will be right here.

More talented scientists will have the opportunity to create and grow new businesses right here in Connecticut.

Start-ups have the potential to grow into successful companies that create employment and keep a well-educated and highly-paid workforce right here in Connecticut. That is a great return on the state’s investment.

Another long-term benefit of the project is that it will generate more revenue for Connecticut (taxes and patents), and make the health center financially self-sufficient through greater reimbursement for services.

We voted yes to Bioscience Connecticut, because it’s a smart investment that will have a long-term payoff for the Farmington Valley and for the state.