Drug giant Roche to add 500 jobs here, invest $180M on facilities

OV facility to get key incentives; positions will average $75,000
2010-10-13T00:00:00Z 2010-10-13T16:41:03Z Drug giant Roche to add 500 jobs here, invest $180M on facilitiesBy Josh Brodesky and David Wichner, Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Drug giant Roche will spend about $180 million in Oro Valley on new buildings and other capital investments while bringing up to 500 high-paying jobs there over the next five years.

The jobs, to pay an average salary of $75,000, will include positions in science, administration and manufacturing, as the heavyweight bioscience and pharmaceutical firm grows to meet the demands of an aging population, the Swiss-based company announced today.

The new jobs will increase the work force of Oro Valley-based Ventana Medical Systems — which was bought by Roche in 2008 — by up to 50 percent.

The Tucson area is believed to have won out over three other regions that also have a Roche workforce, in Indianapolis, Southern California and northern New Jersey, said Joe Snell, president and CEO of Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities Inc. or TREO.

The jobs are new, as Roche expands, and no other city will lose jobs as the Tucson region gains them, the company said.

Community and business leaders close to the deal said it's been in the works for nearly a year and hinges on Pima County and the state providing key incentives.

Pima County Supervisor Ann Day, whose district includes Oro Valley, said the county and state were able to put together generous incentives to entice the company to expand its work force at Innovation Park.

The county will waive $8.5 million in property taxes over "a number of years," and the state is offering $2 million in stimulus funds, Day said. Pima County will also offer work force training. Roche will still be on the hook for school and fire taxes, Day said.

"These are 400 to 500 high-tech positions that have a median wage of more than $70,000 a year," Day said. "I just think it's remarkable to have companies like Ventana Medical and Roche in our region because they are at the forefront of creating new medicine to treat previously untreatable diseases. Just think, it's developed right here in our county."

Oro Valley and, in particular, Innovation Park, is quickly becoming a regional hub for cutting-edge bioscience research.

Sanofi-Aventis also has a research center at the 535-acre campus, and the University of Arizona recently acquired Sanofi-Aventis' older, smaller lab space a few miles from the park. Plans for that lab call for drug research, but the lab will also be used as a business incubator.

Mix in the UA's Bio5 Institute, which helps move research in science and engineering into the marketplace; and Tucson-based Critical Path Institute, which focuses on shortening the process it takes to bring medical innovations to the public, and there is a growing cluster of bioscience research taking place in the Tucson area.

"I'm excited about this. Sanofi-Aventis and Roche are two of the biggest (bioscience companies) in the world," said Dr. Ray Woosley, president and chief executive officer of the Critical Path Institute. "They actually took what was spawned at the university and grew it into something that has had a global impact."

Woosley was referring to the fact that Ventana Medical Systems, which specializes in cancer-tissue testing and instruments, was founded by UA pathologist Dr. Thomas Grogan in 1985. Sanofi-Aventis' local operation was also originally a company, Selectide Corp., founded by four UA professors.

Woosley, a board member of Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities, said TREO has been working on this deal for about 11 months.

This is the kind of deal that could generate serious momentum, putting Tucson on the map for a biotech boom, business leaders said.

"I think Roche, putting its imprimatur on Tucson, its seal of approval, will be great for this whole region," said Neil Simon, a partner in Venture West, which has about 194 acres available for development at Innovation Park. "We're thrilled Roche has chosen Innovation Park in Oro Valley for an investment and job growth."

Simon said he didn't know if Roche was interested in developing new facilities on Venture West's properties, or if it would do something on the Ventana campus. Ventana Medical owns about 60 acres at Innovation Park.

Robert L. Davis, a commercial broker with Grubb & Ellis, which is marketing Innovation Park for Venture West, said the appeal of Innovation Park is obvious. Nestled near Pusch Ridge, it is set in stunning desert. The park has a close relationship with the UA and is a short drive from Phoenix.

"We are looking at a critical mass in an industry segment, and this gets us close," Davis said. "We like to say Innovation Park is where bio works."

Contact reporter Josh Brodesky at jbrodesky@azstarnet.com or 573-4242.

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