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Bristol-Myers A Force For Devens

July 4, 2011 : Worcester Business Journal, by Livia Gershon

In 2006, the former Fort Devens took a major step toward becoming a high-tech business mecca when it was named as the site of a new Bristol-Myers Squibb biologics plant.

The plant was completed in 2009. With a price tag of $750 million, it was the biggest capital investment in the company's history.

Today, George Ramirez, executive vice president of Devens operations for MassDevelopment, says the plant “put Massachusetts and Devens on the map” for U.S. and international companies.

And that’s before the plant has made a single ounce of useable product.

Testing Mode

In what is perhaps a sign of the patience required of biotechnology companies, the nearly 2-year-old plant is still in the process of testing out its equipment and systems so that it can get approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to produce the rheumatoid arthritis drug Orencia.

Spokeswoman Linda Jordan said the company hopes to begin production of the drug, which is now made by a third party, at Devens by mid-2012.

Bristol-Myers has put the total number of Devens employees at 250 since before the plant was complete. Jordan now says the headcount should rise to 300 by the end of the year.

And, indeed, the company has been reaching out to new workers. Its website lists more than two dozen positions open in Devens, and Jordan said it recently held an on-site job fair for potential employees.

Meanwhile, Ramirez said the impact of the plant's presence on the Devens area has been “tremendous.”

Back when the company was deciding among several states hoping to land the plant, Massachusetts officials put together a package of incentives and brought together business leaders to tout the state’s and Devens’ attributes. Now, Ramirez said, the simple presence of Bristol-Myers provides a similar marketing service when other large companies are looking for a new location.

“Companies look at Devens as a place they might find enticing,” Ramirez said, with the area’s central location, strong infrastructure and guaranteed quick permitting.

But he said he believes they also see Devens as a possibility in part because Bristol-Myers got the ball rolling. He said large corporations typically go through site selection specialists when they are seeking a new location, and those specialists have their own lists of areas to consider.

“I think by Bristol-Myers coming to Devens it certainly added this community to that list,” Ramirez said.

He said the company is also a good source of jobs, particularly for the North Central Massachusetts area. It has a longstanding relationship with Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner, which offers programs in biologics manufacturing specifically designed with the Devens plant in mind.

Ramirez said Bristol-Myers is also one of a handful of large companies that he and other Devens officials meet with on a regular basis to discuss day-to-day issues in the area, like road improvements or lawn maintenance. He said he's happy to make time for the meetings even if it's just to make sure everything's going smoothly.

“It’s just (that) they are such a good corporate partner,” he said.

© Copyright 2011 Worcester Business Journal.