The Chandler City Council and the Chandler Chamber of Commerce tout Covance’s planned $125 million investment as the city’s entrée into the biotech industry, with expectations that other biotech firms will quickly follow.
“If that’s the goal of the community, I think this is a good first step,” said Mark Bugher, director of Madison, Wis.’s University Research Park, a large biotech and high-tech campus that acts as an incubator to small companies looking to put research into the marketplace.
Chandler offi cials have pointed to Madison as an example of the direction they want to take their city. During a recent trip to Madison, Chandler Mayor Boyd Dunn and City Manager Mark Pentz met with Bugher.
Covance officials have said the expansion into Arizona is intended to bring the company closer to clients in the western United States. But Chandler will likely find at least some of those clients moving here, since Covance plays a large role in the early development stages of their products.
Bugher called it a ripple effect where companies such as Covance create a market attractive to like-minded companies.
“I’d be shocked if that didn’t happen in Chandler,” he said.
The company’s Chandler facility will be part of larger expansion for Covance. The company recently completed a $50-million, 240,000-square-foot expansion of its Madison facility that scored the company millions in city-funded improvements on nearby streets and infrastructure.
“I know when Covance began talking about this expansion, city offi cials bent over backward to help,” Bugher said. “The company is held in really high regard here.”
In Chandler, however, Covance officials have been quick to point out the company is not in line for any tax breaks or incentives to build in the city.
Much of the attention over Covance in Chandler has been by opponents raising concerns over the company’s use of animals in laboratory testing.
But in Madison, Covance is just one of several facilities that use animals for research.
With the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s more than 40,000 students and the city being the state Capitol, Madison sees plenty of public protests and demonstrations. But rarely are they directed at the city’s research community, Bugher said.
Most recently, the research park began planning its Institute of Avian Flu, where researchers will study the deadly avian influenza, estimated to have killed at least 150 people in Asia and the Middle East since 2003. The virus attracted the media’s attention in recent years as health offi cials began preparing for a possible pandemic.
But with all that, residents who live within sight of Madison’s research park offered no arguments when plans for an avian research facility circulated, Bugher said.
“When we proposed that, we contacted the neighborhood associations,” he said. “Not an ounce of opposition on that one.”
The difference may be in the city’s attitude toward the university. The campus has become a landmark for life-science research, and applauded by many area residents such as Carl and Carol Zimmermann of nearby Oxford Township.
“Stem cell research is where it’s at,” said Carl Zimmermann, in reference to ongoing stem cell research at the university. But the Zimmermanns didn’t know Covance used animals for much of its testing. They’re animal lovers — they even take their cat on camping trips — and they get concerned when they hear a private corporation is using animals for laboratory tests.
The company’s plans for Chandler
• Covance plans to spend about $125 million on the Chandler facility. The company is spending about $25 million on a 50-acre site near Queen Creek and Gilbert roads, adjacent to the Chandler Municipal Airport.
• The company has not yet released any specifics on its plans for the site. Covance originally planned its project on a 38-acre site near Germann and Price roads, but changed those plans in early October.
• Covance has said it will employ 300 to 500 people in the beginning. Ultimately, the company expects to have about 2,000 employees at the Chandler facility.
• Covance will test drugs for pharmaceutical companies and chemical components for other products. Some testing will require animals such as monkeys, dogs, rabbit, hamsters, mice and rats.
• City and other local leaders have said Covance will be the area’s first step in attracting the biotech industry and thus help diversify Chandler’s economy.