The new world-class, invasive-species research center at the University of Minnesota doesn't look like much yet.

Construction hasn't started on the fisheries laboratory, and researchers haven't been hired.

Still, state legislators, officials and well-wishers crowded into the stark facility Tuesday in St. Paul to officially launch the center -- which has a lofty goal to slow the spread of aquatic invasive species, reduce their abundance and ultimately eradicate them from Minnesota waters.

"I just thought the people of the state would want to know we've started -- we're here,'' Director Peter Sorensen said while bighead carp swam nearby in a holding tank.

One of the first major hires will be a zebra mussels expert, a researcher who might figure out how to slow and stop the spread of the mussels -- and maybe destroy the ones already here. Finding that person could take time. "There are very few of them out there,'' Sorensen said.

He pitched the idea of a world-class research center to legislators last winter, hoping to battle the non-native species threatening the state's outdoor recreation and economy. Legislators liked the idea. They diverted $2 million from the Environmental Trust Fund (lottery) and $1.8 million from the Clean Water Legacy Fund to launch the center. Another $8.7 million could be approved by the Legislature this winter, which would fund the center for six years.

The center will work closely with the Department of Natural Resources to develop plans of attack. A lot is at stake.

"The economic impact of doing nothing greatly exceeds the cost of doing something,'' DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said.