There were no protesters, picket signs or pictures of abused animals. Only handshakes, congratulatory hugs and kudos for a job well done.
Covance Inc., a global drug-testing company, marked the final phase of construction on its $100 million facility with a stealth commencement ceremony May 1.
The invitation-only preview was announced a day before the event under heavy security to insure there were no protesters at the half-built facility located at Gilbert and Ryan roads in south Chandler.
Mayor Boyd Dunn said it was imperative that the City Council was unified in its decision to allow Covance into the community.
"Twenty years we will look back at this and realize this was vital for our community," Dunn said. "It’s a new generation of industry and, hopefully, other companies will follow suit."
The ceremony was a veritable who’s who of Arizona officials, including former Gov. Fife Symington, whose public relations firm is handling publicity for Covance, and Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer, who commended the company for locating in Arizona.
With a recently dismissed lawsuit by an animal rights group in February, it appeared as if the ceremony was a thinly veiled declaration that Covance has won the war against animal rights groups and civilians who have denounced the company with protests since it announced its intention in late 2005 to put down roots in Chandler.
The 288,000-square-foot facility is the company’s largest capital expenditure to date and will eventually employ up to 2,000 people, said Joe Herring, chairman of the board and Covance CEO. However, it was Covance’s humane treatment of animals, which ranges from rodents to primates, Herring wanted to stress to an audience of approximately 100 people.
"Humane care of animals is important if for no other reason because it’s the right thing to do," he said. "Our employees love animals and will not tolerate inhumane treatment. If we do not play by the rules, we will be shut down."
Herring noted the company is routinely inspected by the Food and Drug Administration as well as the United States Department of Agriculture.
Herring, who is a cancer survivor, said the work that Covance has performed in the past has saved his life and extended the lives of millions.
"It is our hope that Covance will help people live healthier and happier lives," he said.
Covance will also improve Chandler’s financial health, said Wendel Barr, the company’s chief operating officer. He said the money drug companies are pouring into research and development is growing. Barr noted the $15 billion annual amount is expected to double over the next five to 15 years. He said he expects the biomedical industry in Chandler to grow as well.
"I don’t know if we (Covance) will be the cause for that growth but biomedical research is the magnet," Barr added.
The three-story facility will include innovative housing for animals, kennels, a learning center, an auditorium for 100 people, cafeteria, five labs and an area for animal care.
Jan McClellan, who heads up Citizens Against Covance, said the new facility may be state-of-the-art, but its methods are still Draconian.
"There is a growing global move toward non-animal testing methods," McClellan said. "As long as Covance continues to rely on unreliable and scientifically fraudulent habits, they are far from being in the forefront in development. They are antiquated and obsolete before they even open the facility."
Aysha Akhtar, senior medical and research advisor for Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, said Covance has a track record of animal cruelty, citing multiple violations the company committed in 2004 and 2005. She also said the company is continuing to do business as usual by operating in secrecy.
"It wasn’t an open invitation to the public and, if they were really proud of their facility, I would think they’d invite the entire community to celebrate with them," Akhtar said. "This is not a victory for Chandler. This is not a victory for anyone."
The facility is expected to open in 2009, according to company officials.