$660m drug plant, 550 jobs for Mass.
Deal at Devens site caps an 8-month state effort
By Stephen Heuser, Globe Staff | June 2, 2006
Global drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. has decided to build a $660 million manufacturing plant on the former Fort Devens US Army base, the company said yesterday, bringing as many as 550 jobs to Massachusetts and marking a milestone in the state's efforts to attract new businesses.
The plant is scheduled to open in 2009 and is expected to produce a newly approved drug for rheumatoid arthritis, with possible future expansion into other products.
It is the biggest private investment by far in the decommissioned base, about 35 miles northwest of Boston, which is already home to about 80 companies.
An array of state agencies and offices scrambled for eight months to land the drug plant, which leaders yesterday held up as a sign that Massachusetts could stem its outflow of manufacturing jobs by focusing on the high-tech and life-sciences industries.
Although the Massachusetts drug industry is chiefly known for its small, research-oriented biotechnology companies, Bristol-Myers Squibb joins several large pharmaceutical firms in planting its flag in the state. Novartis AG and Merck & Co. have both opened significant research facilities in the past few years, and two other global drug makers -- Wyeth and Abbott Laboratories -- already manufacture biotechnology drugs in Massachusetts.
To land Bristol-Myers Squibb, the state offered the company more than $60 million in spending and incentives, including $34 million to build new waste treatment and sewage facilities on the Devens site, and a change to the state's investment tax credit rules to let the company claim a refund for 5 percent of its investment in the facility. According to the company's current building plan, that could cost the state as much as $33 million.
Both measures depend on legislation that State House leaders have promised to introduce, and Governor Mitt Romney has promised to sign, according to state officials.
At a press conference called late yesterday afternoon, Romney called the move ``a big boost to manufacturing" and predicted it would seed yet more jobs for the state. ``We have skilled labor, we have land available, and we have a state Legislature and an administration all working together," he said
Bristol-Myers Squibb will buy the land from MassDevelopment, a quasi-public agency that originally purchased the entire parcel from the Department of Defense for $17 million in 1996. The price for Bristol-Myers Squibb's piece of the property has not yet been negotiated.
Bristol-Myers Squibb, based in New York, is a $50 billion company whose products include the top-selling blood thinner Plavix and the cholesterol-lowering drug Pravachol. It has recently begun a push into so-called biotechnology drugs, expensive injectable substances produced in vats of living cells. Orencia, the rheumatoid arthritis drug the company expects to produce at the Devens site, is its first approved biotechnology drug.
As such drugs start to account for a larger share of pharmaceutical spending in the United States, Massachusetts is becoming a magnet for their makers' manufacturing facilities. Even when it reaches full employment, which Romney said could expand further to 800 jobs, the Bristol-Myers Squibb plant will be smaller than the 1,800-employee Wyeth plant in Andover. Abbott Laboratories employs 700 at its factory in Worcester, and Genzyme Corp. also makes biotech drugs in its cathedral-like brick plant on the banks of the Charles River in Allston.
Yesterday's announcement marked the culmination of an eight-month competition between Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, and North Carolina, which has made a strong push to become a biotechnology manufacturing center by touting its low housing and labor costs.
The state first received word in October that a major drug company was scouting for a new site. For two months officials assembled a proposal without knowing the name of the company, referring to the deal only as ``project Hummingbird." They finally met Bristol-Myers Squibb officials at Devens in December.
To neutralize North Carolina's advantage as a less expensive place to build, Thomas Finneran, the president of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council and former speaker of the state House of Representatives, won a promise from labor leaders that they would work on the facility at reduced rates. House and Senate leaders promised they would override the building height limit in the town of Harvard if that is required by Bristol-Myers Squibb.
US Representative Martin Meehan and Senator Edward M. Kennedy helped cement the deal by pressing the Defense Department to arrange a land swap that would make it possible for the state to give Bristol-Myers Squibb the land it needed.
The final decision came in a phone call yesterday from Bristol-Myers Squibb chief executive Peter Dolan, who called Romney from Portugal at 3 p.m. to deliver the news.
Politicians and players in the negotiations raced to hail the deal. Meehan, in a statement, called it ``a model for how to transform a closed military base into a thriving economy." Kennedy said it ``reflects our continued leadership in biotechnology and the life sciences"
After the disclosure, Finneran said, ``I'm as excited as I've been since the birth of my children. This one was a long one, a hard one, and yet a very, very good one for us to win."
The project could expand to an investment of more than $1 billion, state leaders said, although Bristol-Myers Squibb has so far allocated only $660 million. The average salary for jobs at the plant will be about $60,000.
Stephen Heuser can be reached at email@example.com. Bryan Bender and Russell Nichols of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
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