In 2012, Georgia governor Nathan Deal gleefully announced that pharmaceutical giant Baxalta [then Baxter International] would invest more than $1 billion in Georgia to build a biologics manufacturing facility and create 1,400 jobs. His delight was on display again on September 10 as he was joined by administration officials and Baxalta executives cutting the ribbon on the sparkling new Georgia BioScience Training Center, located directly across the street from the nearly-completed manufacturing facility.
“When we talked to Baxalta about locating here,” said Deal, “we saw all the opportunities that Georgia could take advantage of within the life sciences arena and take it to the next level. Not only would Baxalta’s investment bring about 1,400 new jobs, but their plasma fractionation facility would become a major anchor for a thriving life sciences ecosystem in this region. For that to happen, and for us to usher in that new era in this particular industry, we knew there would be one essential ingredient: skilled, professionally trained and qualified workers.”
That’s where the $14-million, 52,000-sq.-ft. (4,831-sq.-m.) training center comes in. The facility will be operated by the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG), with training developed by Georgia Quick Start, the state’s workforce development program. The reputation of Georgia Quick Start and its partnership with statewide educational institutions was a key factor in Baxalta’s original decision to locate the new plant in Georgia, according to John Furey, senior vice president and head of global operations for Baxalta.
“This facility will act as an incubator for broader development of the
bioscience industry in Georgia.”
“We know the state is putting great effort into building a bioscience community here,” he said. “This training center will play a crucial role in helping to train workers as our presence in Georgia grows.”
Architecturally, the building is awash with natural light owing to an open roof courtyard in the center of the structure that is surrounded by glass interior walls. Baxalta offered input on the design of the training center and collaborated with Georgia Quick Start on workforce training specific to the company’s needs.
“They actively engaged us on the design — the physical design, layout and the equipment,” Furey says. “This has been a true partnership, which we see as a hugely important element of hiring and training high-quality employees.”
But both Furey and his Baxalta colleague Jacopo Leonardi, executive vice president and president of immunology, say the center is more than just a pipeline for well-trained Baxalta employees.
“This facility will act as an incubator for broader development of the bioscience industry in Georgia,” says Furey. “This is a proven, global model, where the first mover brings the second and third movers. We’re delighted to be that first mover.”
Leonardi agrees, citing the company’s investment in Cambridge, Mass.
“Boston is a great example,” he says. “We selected Cambridge in part because Cambridge had become a hub for biotechnology. It was attractive to us because we knew that by locating ourselves in Cambridge we’d have access to all the great scientific minds and technical skills we’d need to be successful in delivering innovations to our patients. What we’re doing here in Georgia is earlier in development but similar. You have a true center of excellence that attracts ongoing skilled jobs. I think there are a lot of similarities to what happened in Cambridge.”
That’s music to the ears of Chris Carr, commissioner of Georgia’s Department of Economic Development.
“The BioScience Training Center is the centerpiece of our pitch as we work to grow our bioscience industry cluster,” he says. “Georgia is already home to more than 400 life sciences companies, and now we have the capability to provide resources across the value chain from research and development to clinical trials to manufacturing and distribution. In Georgia an idea can be born, researched, tested, commercialized, produced and then quickly delivered anywhere in the world.”
The BioScience Training Facility provides space for pre-employment assessments and houses a number of training classrooms and labs that run candidates and trainees through every phase of bioscience employment training. Trainees are instructed in everything from proper gowning techniques in the Gowning Simulation Room to the Pilot Lab (which provides training simulations that incorporate critical technologies required in a biomanufacturing environment) to the Maintenance Lab (instructing students in the critical mission of keeping the manufacturing facility operational).
Georgia officials predict that 79,000 jobs will be created in Georgia in the critical Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields by 2020, and the BioScience Training Facility is an important part of the state’s workforce training strategy. At Baxalta alone, skill requirements will range from basic technical qualifications to employees with advanced degrees in science and engineering.
“We’re talking about roles in quality assurance and quality control — both of which are very important elements in manufacturing biologic products — and support roles in fields like information technology, finance, and supply chain and logistics,” says Furey. “There’s a wide spectrum of both jobs and levels. There are plenty of opportunities for a variety of Georgia residents here and we are confident we will have the necessary skills and resources from inside Georgia.” Furey says the senior leadership team and 400 employees are already in place at the Covington site.
The 1-million-sq.-ft. (92,903-sq.-m.) manufacturing facility is still under construction, and is expected to be complete in early 2016. The facility will produce plasma-derived therapies — immunoglobulin therapy — for patients with immune deficiencies. In other words, Baxalta processes healthy plasma to enhance the plasma of patients with suppressed or otherwise damaged immune systems. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) licensing and other ramp-up activities will continue through 2017, with commercial operations commencing in 2018. The Baxalta campus includes three main manufacturing buildings and laboratories as well as warehouse and utilities buildings and administrative facilities. It’s located at a four-county industrial park, Stanton Springs, about 50 miles (81 km.) east of Atlanta, off of I-20.Additionally, Baxalta is opening multiple plasma collection sites in the state through its subsidiary, BioLife Plasma Services. The centers will collect the human plasma for processing at the Covington manufacturing facility. To date, three plasma collection sites have opened in Warner Robins, in middle Georgia; Douglasville, west of Atlanta; and Snellville, a metro Atlanta suburb.