“Florida has gone from what I would call a nothingburger in the life sciences space to one of the top eight, top seven, top six states,” Bush said. “The execution of this idea was first-rate.”

Aiming to diversify Florida’s notoriously low-tech, low-wage economy, Bush in 2003 offered the San Diego-based Scripps Research Institute hundreds of millions of dollars to open a campus in Florida. That deal led a stampede of research institutes to expand here, including Max Planck Florida in Jupiter, the Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies and VGTI Florida in Port St. Lucie and the Burnham Institute in Orlando.

The public investment in Florida’s biotech industry totals about $1 billion, Bush told the more than 150 people who gathered at Scripps Florida for a panel discussion moderated by the two-term governor.

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