State News

Flu vaccine plant boosts Holly Springs' economy

Posted April 22, 2009 12:58 p.m. EDT
Updated April 22, 2009 6:42 p.m. EDT

— Construction of a flu vaccine-production plant by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis AG has been giving Holly Springs some welcome protection against the recession.

Nonstop work for 20 months had brought the 430,000-square-foot facility halfway to completion, and installation of the reactors to grow the flu vaccine was under way when WRAL toured the site Wednesday.

"We currently have 700 people on site, so it's a substantially large construction project not just for Novartis but for the entire industry," Novartis site manager Chris McDonald said.

The $600 million facility is the largest bio-manufacturing project under construction in the United States, the site manager said.

The project is on budget and ahead of schedule, in part, because of the struggling economy, said McDonald.

"Two years ago, thing were booming here in N.C., so it was a little more difficult to attract tradesfolk to your project. And now the cost of raw materials has decreased, so overall it's probably helped us from a schedule prospective, as well as from a cost perspective," he said.

Approximately 100 local companies from drywall specialists to electricians have worked on the building.

"It's going to benefit the town now for the next 25 years with them being out there, from a tax base standpoint, from a jobs standpoint," Holly Springs Town Manager Carl Dean said.

Dean estimated that the town will make about $25 million a year off the plant, in addition to the new jobs the plant creates.

So far, Novartis has hired about 100 people, and local universities will provide a pool of candidates for the 200 more positions for which Novartis plans to hire over the next two years, McDonald said.

"We're looking for a lot of new grads with microbiology degrees," McDonald said, praising recent graduates from North Carolina State University as "phenomenal hires."

Amid a bidding war for the plant, Holly Springs officials offered an economic incentive package estimated to be worth about $40 million.

Novartis will use the facility, in part, to fulfill two contracts worth a total of more than $700 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The vaccine production plant could be used to respond to pandemics.

Novartis leaders said they plan for the plant to be fully staffed and operational by the end of 2010. After undergoing inspections and licensing, the facility will make about 50 million doses of the flu vaccine annually.