02 Mar Abbott Labs campus in Kenosha could send ripples through local biotech
Pleasant Prairie, Wis. — Now that pharmaceutical giant Abbott Laboratories Inc. has acquired 500 acres of land just across the Wisconsin state line for what figures to be a major expansion, some technology observers believe the impending development bodes well for creating synergies with the state’s existing biotech companies.
While Abbott has set the stage for an expansion just 15 miles north of its world headquarters in northern Illinois, the hop across the border into Wisconsin is significant because of perception and the connections that could follow, said Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council.
“I think there will be closer connections to some of the research institutions in this state,” Still said Thursday after governor Jim Doyle made the announcement at a news conference just south of Kenosha.
“I think Abbott’s management and others would likely be more plugged in to Wisconsin-based activities,” Still predicted. “And, certainly more [Abbott] employees would also be part of the broader Wisconsin community. So, it’s about connections – the miles aren’t many, but the gap that was closed is significant.”
Corporate campus likely
Confirming earlier reports, governor Doyle announced Thursday that Abbott has purchased 500 acres west of I-94 in Pleasant Prairie and the neighboring town of Bristol.
The site is envisioned to house multiple buildings with a variety of uses including office, laboratory, light manufacturing and support facilities, according to a statement released by Doyle’s office. While the development timeline will depend on future growth and market factors, the land is expected to be zoned to accommodate up to 12,000 employees, the statement said.
If Abbott creates 2,400 new jobs, the Kenosha Area Business Alliance alliance does not have to repay $12.5 million it was loaned by the state to help with development, the statement issued by Doyle’s office said.
While Abbott corporate officials were conspicuously absent from Thursday’s announcement, declining to provide any specifics about their plans for the site, others in the state biotech community were buzzing about the potential ramifications of a global pharmaceutical company setting up shop in Wisconsin.
Irene Hrusovsky, CEO of EraGen Biosciences in Madison and a veteran of Abbott, said that the land purchase is a significant milestone in growing the biotechnology industry in Wisconsin.
“I have always believed that attracting large pharmaceutical and medical device companies to Wisconsin will strengthen our research and innovation-driven foundation, building a stronger future business-base,” she said.
Even though the anticipated expansion may not represent a big move for a global company such as Abbott – which had $22.3 billion in sales last year and 60,000 employees worldwide – it’s a big move for Wisconsin. The decision to expand here flies in the face of the naysayers who say that Wisconsin isn’t a good place for large companies to locate their operations because of high taxes or other reasons, said Ralph Kauten, CEO of Quintessence Biosciences in Madison.
“It sends a signal to other pharmaceutical companies that Wisconsin is a good place to have operations,” said Kauten, who joined the early-stage biosciences company in 2002 after helping develop several other Madison biotech companies. “We can expect a number of benefits from that, maybe some of them longer-term. Hopefully, other pharmaceutical companies will see that and decide that it makes sense to locate operations in Wisconsin.”
Kauten notes that Abbott Labs is a great training ground for scientists, some of which have come to work in Wisconsin, so expanding operations in Wisconsin is likely to increase the flow of talent and possibly spinouts.