WILSON – Merck is making its second significant investment at the company’s Wilson plant in less than six months, a move that will boost the local economy and the site’s workforce.

North Carolina Commerce Secretary Anthony M. Copeland paid a visit to the site on December 4 to announce that Merck will spend $57 million to establish a filling and packaging line for its RotaTeq vaccine. The expansion will increase employment at Wilson by about 55 jobs over the next couple of years, or slightly more than 10 percent of its current 500-person workforce.

Joining Secretary Copeland for the announcement were representatives from the Merck Manufacturing Division and nearly 50 of the area’s business and political leaders.

The RotaTeq vaccine is used to prevent rotavirus gastroenteritis in children. This illness can cause fever, vomiting and diarrhea that can be severe and lead to dehydration and hospitalization. The new line at Wilson will increase the company’s ability to supply of this important, and potentially lifesaving medicine.

Photo via NC Biotech Center

Merck Senior Vice President of Global Pharmaceutical Operations Tom McCubbins (left)
and NC Commerce Secretary Anthony M. Copeland (right)

The investment will bring a unique process to Wilson. The filling and packaging line will be housed in a portable POD that can be brought on line more rapidly than other filling and packaging operations, in considerably less space, according to Merck Associate Vice President of Operations and Site Leader Amanda Taylor.

It will use an advanced Blow Flow Seal technology that forms, fills and seals the vaccine vial in one continuous, automated system. The site plans to produce between eight and 10 million doses of vaccine annually.

The POD will be assembled in Texas and delivered to the Wilson site in the second half of 2020.

Merck to invest $57M, add more jobs at Wilson vaccine plant

Merck’s average salary for the new positions at Wilson will be more than $59,000 and includes operations personnel, engineering and maintenance staff, and supervisors. The current average wage in Wilson County is $44,012.

A $200,000 performance-based grant from the One North Carolina Fund and a $700,000 grant from Wilson County will support the expansion. The state fund provides financial assistance to local governments to help attract economic investment and to create jobs. Companies receive no money up front and must meet job creation and capital investment targets to qualify. All One NC allocations require a matching grant from local governments.

Partnering with N.C. Commerce and the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina on the project were the North Carolina General Assembly, Wilson County, and the Wilson County Economic Development Office.

Second Investment at Wilson Plant in 2019

Tom McCubbins, Merck’s senior vice president of global pharmaceutical operations, pointed out that the investment follows close on the heels of another allocation of $30 million at Wilson – announced in July – that created 34 jobs. That brings the total to almost $100 million in the second half of this year.

The previous investment was part of a $680 million package that included $650 million for Merck’s Durham site to increase production of the company’s GARDASIL and GARDASIL 9 recombinant human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. The company is earmarking more than $8 billion globally to support the long-term growth of its vaccines and biologics portfolios.

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These North Carolina allocations “reflect Merck’s ongoing commitment to the state and to Wilson,” said McCubbins. “This allows us to build on the skill base and can-do attitude this site demonstrates as a strategic supplier to the United States and the rest of the world.”

The Department of Commerce has supported the company during its Wilson site evaluation and decision-making process.

“Nothing beats first-hand knowledge, and Merck’s previous experience in our state gave them the confidence to bring this new business on line here,” said Secretary Copeland. “In just one year, this company has now invested $737 million in North Carolina, proving again that we’re the hotbed for the life sciences industry…. With today’s announcement, Merck’s investment in our state is approaching $1.7 billion.”

“North Carolina enjoys a well-earned reputation as one of the nation’s leading centers for biopharmaceutical companies,” Governor Cooper added in a press release. “Merck is a cornerstone of the important industry cluster for our state, and offers proof that North Carolina’s commitment to education and workforce development continues to pay dividends.”