Plans for pharmaceutical giants Novartis (NYSE: NVS), GlaxoSmithKline(NYSE: GSK) and Eli Lilly to swap business lines may have shaken up the stock market Tuesday, but work at a Novartis flu vaccine plant in Holly Springs hummed along, and local officials said they expect it to remain that way.

Novartis plans to sell its vaccine business to GSK and its animal health division to Lilly, buy GSK’s cancer-drug business and form a consumer health care joint venture with GSK. Although the Holly Springs plant isn’t part of the GSK deal, Novartis officials said the company is looking for a buyer for it.

Mayor Dick Sears says Novartis executives called him Tuesday morning and told him of the potential plant sale, but he wasn’t concerned by the news.

“I don’t think there’ s any possibility that plant will disappear. It may change names; it may not,” Sears said.

The plant has long-term contracts with the government to produce flu vaccines, he said, so he doesn’t expect any major shake-up.

Holly Springs, Wake County and the state offered Novartis more than $40 million in incentives to build the vaccine plant, which opened five years ago and now employs 550.

Sears said the local investment has been worth every penny.

“Our permits are up, everything is up from last year,” he said. “Everything is happy as a lark, and we want to keep it that way.”

Other businesses have flocked to the bedroom community since the plant opened, and it now ranks among the fastest-growing towns in North Carolina. Commercial tax revenue accounts for 21 percent of Holly Springs’ tax base, up from only 10 percent five years ago.

My Way Tavern opened its doors in downtown Holly Springs not too long after Novartis started operations nearby.

“It’s been a nice influx as far as nighttime goes,” owner Andrew Stafford said. “They would bring a lot of people in corporate-wise and put them up at hotels and bounce them off of me at night.”

A Novartis spokesman said the bidding process for the vaccine plant could take from nine to 19 months to complete.


Reporter: Julia Sims
Photographer: Tom Normanly
Web Editor: Matthew Burns