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CASE STUDY
From Site Selection magazine, July 2010
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A Tree Company
Grows in Charleston

By John W. McCurry
N
An Arborgen researcher is pictured in the company's lab.
An Arborgen researcher is pictured in the company's lab.
Photo courtesy of ArborGen

early eight years ago, a biotech startup selected the Charleston, S.C., area for its new headquarters. ArborGen, which focuses on the science of forestry, was founded in 2000. The company has subsequently grown, and in June, it announced plans for a larger headquarters near Summerville, just west of Charleston.

ArborGen plans a new, 13.5-acre (5.5-hectare) campus. The US$14.3-million facility, in Dorchester County, will house its laboratories, production and administrative functions, plus a 35,000-sq.-ft. (3,250-sq.-m.) greenhouse. The company says it will create 25 new jobs over the next five years.

ArborGen officials credit several factors in the decision to stay and expand in the Charleston region, including an expanding pool of local research talent, the rapid growth of its biotechnology business in the Southeast, and the support received from state and federal officials.

"From the beginning, ArborGen has received great support from every level of government and from private-sector colleagues," said Barbara Wells, ArborGen's president and CEO. "We credit this support with helping our biotech firm achieve steady growth and expansion since our founding in 2000. We are passionate about helping the forestry sector meet the world's growing demand for wood, fiber and energy, and we are excited to do so from our home in South Carolina."

Founded in South Carolina, ArborGen now has more than 170 employees in the U.S., Brazil, Australia and New Zealand. It employs 70 in the Charleston area, including 15 staff members with master's or doctorate degrees.

In early 2003, Site Selection's Online Insider reported on the company's initial decision to locate its global headquarters in the Charleston area, quoting Wells, who had just been hired as the company's CEO. "The area's "strong, forestry-based community has an understanding of the need for this type of technology," Wells said. Other major factors in Charleston's favor, Wells added, were "a knowledgeable, available work force and a state-of-the art facility available for lease."

The company cites that same strong work force as a reason for its continued commitment to the region. ArborGen executives also say they re-committed to the Charleston area because of its long history in forestry combined with a community that welcomes the advances the company is making. The company currently collaborates with organizations statewide, including Clemson University, South Carolina State University and Claflin University in Orangeburg, Savannah River National Laboratory, South Carolina Governor's School and others to ensure a stable and ready pipeline of talent well into the future.

ArborGen says it is the world's leading supplier of "improved" pine seedlings with more than 2,000 customers, operating in the largest planted forest markets in the world. The company claims a well-established commercial business with more than 275 million tree sales per year. ArborGen produces and sells Loblolly, Slash and Longleaf in the U.S. Southeast and Radiata in Australia and New Zealand.

In May, ArborGen announced an extension of its partnership with New Zealand Crown Research Institute Scion in gene discovery and molecular breeding for forest trees. Begun in 2006, the partnership has been successful in identifying gene-traits associated with wood quality improvements in pine. The partnership has identified more than 100 new genes to test in Loblolly Pine research being conducted at ArborGen.

Scion Chief Executive Tom Richardson predicts future plantation forests will be different to what they are now, with trees grown for a wider range of purposes in addition to traditional forest products, such as bio-energy and other bio-based products.

Over the next three years, the partnership will focus on developing and applying valuable traits, such as improved growth and superior wood quality, for both commercial forestry and biomaterials applications.

"ArborGen hires numerous PhDs and other highly trained and skilled scientists, professionals and researchers," said Mitchell Bohannon, chairman of the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, which helped facilitate the new headquarters project. "The company's decision to grow here says a lot about their confidence in our region's workforce and our growing bioscience cluster."

ArborGen anticipates its new facility will be open by the third quarter of 2011.

Arborgen announced in June that it will build a larger headquarters near Summerville, S.C.
Photo courtesy of ArborGen

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