Walz to request $5 million for institute

Published 2:09 pm Thursday, May 29, 2008

In efforts to continue to bring the best to The Hormel Institute, U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., has requested $5 million from Congress to purchase state-of-art equipment for the newly-created International Center of Research Technology, an institute initiative slated to serve as a research core for varieties of outside scientists and businesses.

“This is one of the premier institutes in the world,” Walz said. “What we’re out here for is the federal side of this to make some appropriations work.”

According to institute spokesperson Gail Dennison, ICRT will offer the “most cutting-edge tools, research and technology today” to collaborating scientists and businesses.

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“It will be a research technology center that people and businesses from around the region can further their research and business using the technology from the institute,” she said, adding that total cost will range between $5 million and $10 million.

Equipment will include tools for protein crystallization, the institute’s supercomputer and mass spectroscopy, among others.

“When we first talked about it, it was like we knew that the HI expansion, we just didn’t realize it would happen before the construction was complete,” Dennison said.

The congressman, who toured the facility with figureheads from Hormel Foods, the Hormel Foundation, the city of Austin and other local organizations, hailed the institute’s work, praising not only its research on behalf of cancer prevention and treatment, but also its economic reverberations across Austin and southern Minnesota.

The investment will be ten-fold, Walz said, noting the hundreds of jobs guaranteed during and after the construction of the institute, scheduled for its grand opening Oct. 3.

“It’s visionary,” he said. “It’s a time when people are obviously concerned about the economy.”

Walz said the money will be earmarked in one of 13 appropriation bills scheduled for debate this summer and early fall. The first-district representative was not entirely optimistic about the Oct. 1 congressional deadline, estimating that the funding, if passed, would arrive 12 to 18 months from now.

“So we are here today as strong partners,” he said.

The Hormel Institute, a collaborative research partner of the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic, is currently under construction in preparation for an October grand opening several years in the making.

Total cost — $23 million — has been covered by funders varying from Hormel Foods, the Hormel Foundation and local community members.

“We are very pleased to be a supporter for The Hormel Institute,” said Hormel Foods CEO Jeff Ettinger, who provided $5 million in start up costs for the facility.

“We used to look at it as a little brother,” he said. “But little brother has grown up.”

Much of the institute’s operation funding — about $6 million or 90 percent — has derived from the National Institute of Health, which, with a $28.5 billion budget, has become more and more selective with its grant monies, according to Walz, who wants to double its funding.

We spend less than $7 per person on cancer research, Walz said. “And it’s costing the American people hundreds of millions of dollars a year.”

“We want to make sure that this country is not a penny-wise, pound foolish,” he added.

In 2007, Walz secured $425,000 for the institute’s expansion as local fundraising efforts closed. Established in 1942, The Hormel Institute conducts biomedical research, focused largely on natural, non-toxic alternatives to chemotherapy, under the directrion of executive director Dr. Zigang Zong.

“We’ve done our fundraising in the community,” Dennison said. “Now for further growth we need to go beyond our geographic borders here. We need funding from the state and from the federal government, though appropriations.

“We have a long-term plan, and need their support,” she said.