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Merck snubs Georgia for plant

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Guest donaltopablo

This would have been a nice boost for the Atlanta metro, but is certainly good news for the Research Triangle.

Merck snubs Georgia for plant


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. has bypassed Georgia for a major new facility because a stronger worker skill base is available in North Carolina's Research Triangle Park, Gov. Sonny Perdue said Friday.

The first phase of the project is expected to total between $200 million and $300 million and produce up to 300 high-level jobs.

Perdue said he spoke to Merck Chief Executive Raymond Gilmartin on Friday morning before going to a meeting of the Georgia Research Alliance, which has pushed to grow the state's biotechnology industry.

"He confirmed this morning that they've chosen North Carolina for a new vaccine [manufacturing] center," Perdue said. "I wanted to know why. I wanted to get a definite post-mortem."

Perdue said Gilmartin "thought there was a higher critical mass of qualified workers, particularly with the number of Ph.Ds they needed. We were not persuasive enough."

Gilmartin said later Friday that the company chose North Carolina after considering Georgia and a third state, which he didn't identify.

"Financial incentives were involved, but the final decision swung on the skill base available," Gilmartin said. "There is a lot of biotech activity in the Research Triangle."

Georgia has a moderate level of biotech activity but considerably less than hotbeds such as San Diego, Boston and the Research Triangle.

Merck operates a facility in Albany, where it makes active pharmaceutical ingredients in bulk form. The plant, which produced a precursor to modern antibiotics when it opened in 1952, now employs more than 500 people.

"Georgia has been a very attractive place to have a manufacturing plant," Gilmartin said.

The plant will make two vaccines: one for measles, mumps and rubella, and one for chickenpox.

Glenn Cornell, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism, said he believes North Carolina's tax structure and incentives factored into Merck's choice.

"We put a very aggressive proposal on the table," Cornell said. "It was so aggressive that the North Carolina Legislature had to call a special session to better our proposal. We have to reach a threshold of what is the right amount of return on investment."

Merck had been looking at a site at Stanton Springs, a planned $800 million mixed-use project along I-20 in Newton, Morgan and Walton counties. The developer is Technology Park Atlanta, the firm that developed the park by that name and Johns Creek in north Fulton.

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