DURHAM – Looking for a minimum $60,000-salary job, but think you need a college degree to apply?

Think again.

Merck, a major New Jersey-based pharma company currently developing a vaccine against HPV, has decided to expand its facilities here in the region, investing around $650 million and creating more than 400 jobs over the next five years in Durham and Wilson.

But more to the point, it’s about what kind of jobs: Manufacturing.

We’re talking operations and support-function roles, with starting salaries ranging from $60,000 to $80,000 a year. No college degree required.

“Our board is really prioritizing jobs for all levels of education for people in our community,” Durham County Board of Commissioners chairwoman Wendy Jacobs told WRAL TechWire, shortly after the formal announcement at the NC Biotechnology Center on Thursday morning.

“It depends on the size of your family. But that’s a very good starting salary for somebody who may have only a high school degree and certification.”

As she reminded the 50-strong crowd gathered earlier, that’s not happening in other parts of the country at the moment.

“We see manufacturing jobs shrinking,” she said.

Donna Hubert, who works in Durham, welcomed the news.

“Anytime there’s more opportunities for people to work, it’s always a positive,” she told WRAL TV Reporter Aaron Thomas.

“I hope that there will be opportunities at all levels.”

Tony Copeland, North Carolina’s secretary of commerce, talking to reporters after the press conference on Thursday morning.

Breaking it down

Merck has had a presence in the region since it first opened its manufacturing center in Durham back in 2004. Later, it added a plant in Wilson.

“To date, they’ve invested $1.6 billion invested in Durham. That’s huge,” Tony Copeland, North Carolina’s secretary of commerce, told a gaggle of reporters after the press conference.

Merck’s expansion plans include building a new 225,000-square foot manufacturing facility in Durham and expanding its packaging operations in Wilson.

The project will be funded, in part, by a Job Development Investment Grant, which was approved by the state’s Economic Investment Committee yesterday. Over the 12 years, it’s expected to grow the state’s economy by $3.1 billion.

“Our Durham and Wilson plants are key strategic sites in the Merck global manufacturing network. And the strong support of the state is critical for the success of businesses such as ours, ” Merck’s executive vice president Sanat Chattopadhyay, Executive Vice President said in a release.

Hubert sees benefits beyond the jobs.

“You’re right here in the Triangle where there’s many medical universities and hospitals that will benefit from that new product,” she told Thomas.

Layoffs also in store

But it wasn’t all good news.

Just hours after Merck held its press conference to announce its expansion, the company issued notice that it was cutting up to 150 full-time positions from its existing operations in Durham.

The reason: the end of bulk production for its drug product varicella, due to changes in market demand.

“However, these positions are included in Merck’s retention target, which means the company must return to current staffing levels before adding the 425 jobs,” the company said.

Hubert understands changes can mean job losses but is hopeful the affected workers will find new positions.

“That’s usually how business goes…and new systems and new technology exists, changes have to occur but hopefully those 150 people will be able to transition into the new jobs that’ll be coming,” Hubert said.

Merck, which is hiring at NC plants, quadruples profit as drug, vaccine sales soar

Merck picks Durham, Wilson for $680M expansion, 425 new jobs