RALEIGH, N.C. — The promise of delivering a well-trained instantaneous workforce is why Holly Springs will be the site for a new vaccine production facility, the chief executive officer of Novartis Vaccines & Diagnostics said Tuesday.
“A well-educated, trained and talented work force,” said Joerge Reinhardt when asked why Novartis picked North Carolina over Georgia and Maryland.
“At the end of the day, for us it is important to get the plant up and running as fast as possible — with very few hiccups,” Reinhardt told WRAL.com in an interview after the press conference during which Governor Mike Easley declared North Carolina the winning suitor for Norvatis.
“The fact that we can have instantaneous workers was absolutely essential. It was the main reason why we picked North Carolina,” he explained, adding that Georgia and Maryland were the other two finalists. “Economic incentives were not the driving force. They really were not.”
Although Novartis is receiving 167 acres of land in the Holly Springs Office Park as a grant from the town as well as other state and local incentives totaling around $20 million, Reinhardt said Novartis’ primary focus is to get the plant built as quickly as possible and then have 350 or so workers ready to go to work when production begins. Average salaries will be $49,900 plus benefits. The total incentive packages reaches more than $40 million when the value of highway improvements and community college training is included, The News & Observer reported.
A “conservative guess” for the first delivery of products is 2011, with groundbreaking taking place early next year, he added.
Novartis plans to invest as much as $700 million to build the plant and to hire 350 workers. The facility will be used to produce influenza vaccine using new cell-based technology rather than traditional egg manufacturing techniques. A primary emphasis of the plant will be to produce vaccine in the event of a pandemic event by such threats as avian flu.
The facility will be huge, covering some 300,000 square feet, according to the company.
Easley also cited the availability of a “skilled, dedicated workforce” as a North Carolina advantage in the industrial recruitment process.
Leslie Alexandre, who runs the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, and Stephen Scott, president of Wake Tech Community College, also cited the importance of the workforce.
“Absolutely the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 reasons we won the plant is the quality of our workforce,” said Alexandre, who was among the scores of industry and political officials attending the press conference at the old State Capitol building. “We have a plentiful, well-trained workforce.”
Scott, who was part of the recruiting team working on the Novartis project, said Wake Tech would help provide trained workers for the facility.
“They checked us out thoroughly,” Scott said of Novartis. “They know that Wake Tech can deliver a trained workforce to their specifications as soon as they open the doors.”
Wake Tech and the state’s community college system has made the training of biotech workers a major point of emphasis as part of a statewide “Bionetwork” initiative.
North Carolina has also aggressively recruited biotech plants. The state, already ranked third nationally by Ernst & Young as a center for the biotech and life science industry, convinced Merck to build a production facility in Durham. Wyeth is also expanding a facility in Sanford.
Novartis is not a stranger to North Carolina, either. It already employs 680 people at operations in Greensboro and Wilson.
North Carolina did lose out to Massachusetts in the bidding for a new Bristol-Myers Squibb plant. The state and Holly Springs wanted the $1 billion plant and 700 accompanying jobs to be built at a proposed landfill site.
An elated Dick Sears, mayor of Holly Springs, said the Novartis decision would mean the generation of many more jobs than the 350 Novartis is expected to create. In a study, the town projects hundreds of additional jobs would be created. The town called the effort to land Novartis “Operation Aardvark.”
“This could be — and probably will be — as big as the Bristol-Myers Squibb plant,” Sears added. “Someone asked me if this was a consolation prize. I said no, we got the first prize. It would have been nice to have two first prizes.”
The town is paying G & G Properties $7.27 million for the 167-acre site at the western end of the office park. It will grant the property to Novartis and also kick in $1 million for site grading.
Bob Griffin, one of four partners in G & G Properties that owned the plant location, said the deal “happened relatively quickly.”
“We’re very comfortable with the price at which we are selling the property,” he added. “The fact that Novartis picked Holly Springs is a tremendous achievement, and it’s going to lead to further development in the area which in turn will lead to development of more amenities for our community.”