Why Amgen Chose the Columbus Region and Why It Matters
The global biopharmaceutical giant’s $365 million investment will have far-reaching impacts.
In a string of economic development wins for the Columbus Region, one stands out for its uniqueness and global prestige. In June 2021, biopharmaceutical giant Amgen said it would invest $365 million to build a cutting-edge manufacturing facility in New Albany.
The 270,000-square-foot building will feature Amgen’s most advanced assembly and packaging capabilities for medicines to be distributed in the U.S., supporting a global supply chain network amid growing demand for Amgen medicines.
The direct impacts on the Columbus Region are enormous, including the creation of 400 new jobs and an annual payroll of $40 million, but the ripple effects are just as exciting. With revenues of more than $25 billion in 2020, Amgen is a global pioneer in restoring health and providing therapies for those fighting serious illnesses.
“There was a solid base and a lot of momentum, and then all of a sudden—boom—Amgen comes in and you’ve got this really strong, globally respected player,” says Matt McQuade, managing director of business development for One Columbus, who helped Amgen in its site selection process. “All of a sudden people say, ‘Wow, there is a lot going on in Columbus.’ So, it’s going to greatly enhance our ability to continue to grow the industry.”
Based in Thousand Oaks, California, with operations spanning the globe, Amgen searched for a new site that would provide access to a diverse and growing talent pool, allow favorable operating costs and be centrally located from a logistics perspective.
Amgen started its six-month search process with about a dozen U.S. markets in consideration, says Sandra Rodriguez Toledo, vice president of site operations for Amgen, who will be overseeing the new facility.
The Columbus Region, and New Albany specifically, checked those boxes and more with a highly accessible site on Route 161 within the New Albany International Business Park. But land readiness ultimately sealed the deal. Amgen credits the city of New Albany, The New Albany Company and their partners for having a shovel-ready site equipped with infrastructure that was zoned and prepared for competitive incentives.
“We believe that prepared communities win,” says Jennifer Chrysler, director of community development for the city of New Albany. “Attracting biotech investment is something that One Columbus has foreseen over the last decade or more. We have been assessing our strengths, our weaknesses and what we need to do in order to win big projects—everything from the availability of land, utility infrastructure and relationships with community stakeholders. So, that level of preparedness is what brings a company like Amgen to a community like ours.”
The collaborative spirit is continuing beyond the site selection process to keep the project on schedule.
“Speed—that’s the other thing that is just so important about these companies in the biopharmaceutical industry,” says William Ebbing, president of The New Albany Company. “They have a schedule that they’ve got to hit. Having the infrastructure in place helps the city move at the speed of business, not the speed of government.”
When it comes time to build out the workforce, Amgen will be supported by Ohio State University, which is codeveloping an internship program and other experiential learning opportunities. Amgen’s presence illustrates the growing demand for STEM students graduating from the region’s education institutions and underscores the importance of the new, $1 billion-plus Innovation District funded by JobsOhio, Ohio State University and Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
“We are collaborating to have a strong strategy for the recruitment process—by next year we should have around 150 associates already working on this project,” says Rodriguez Toledo, adding that Amgen is partnering with other local organizations in its workforce development efforts. “I haven’t seen this type of support [before]. It’s completely different, and it has been outstanding.”
A Novel Approach
Amgen expects its facility to be up and running by the first quarter of 2024. With an expected annual payroll of $40 million, Amgen will be hiring technician, engineering, quality assurance, quality control, administrative and management positions with an average annual salary of about $100,000.
Amgen’s facility will be far from the typical manufacturing operation, incorporating some of the most advanced digital automation technologies to make decisions based on real-time data.
“It’s a very sophisticated type of manufacturing that enhances the market,” says One Columbus president and CEO Kenny McDonald.
The New Albany operation also will be the most sustainable facility in Amgen’s network, using innovative technology to reduce carbon emissions, as well as energy, water and waste consumption. The Amgen facility in New Albany will be built to exacting environmental standards—consistent with the company’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2027—and is expected to be LEED-certified.
Diversity, equity and inclusion will be central to Amgen’s presence in the Columbus Region, as well. The company is a founding member of OneTen, a global coalition of large companies aiming to hire one million Black Americans into well-paying jobs over the next 10 years, with a specific focus on those without a four-year college degree.
“Diversity, inclusion and belonging is an important part of Amgen culture. We believe that in order to hire the best talent, it’s important to consider candidates that are diverse in background and experience,” says Rodriguez Toledo, who, as a Latina woman from Puerto Rico, says she exemplifies the company’s emphasis on diversity. “So we are committed to having the best talent and implementing Amgen’s culture that honors diversity and promotes inclusion and belonging.”
Adds McDonald: “You just see it when you look at the composition of their team in the room. They’re actually living it,” he says. “So we have a lot of respect for the company, their culture, how they have approached the project and what their priorities are.”
Amgen plans to be a supportive member of the Central Ohio community, not merely a large company “helicoptering” in from out-of-state. Its Amgen Foundation has contributed more than $325 million to nonprofit organizations advancing excellence in science education and strengthening the communities where the company’s employees live and work.
“They are very philanthropic,” Chrysler says. “They have invested back heavily in the communities they are located in, and they share some commonalities with us with respect to sustainability, health and wellness, and lifelong learning—that was just pretty remarkable and made them a great fit for us.”
Those “soft” characteristics strongly factored into Amgen’s site selection process, unlike some searches that revolve only around the technical aspects of a project. “In the company’s last visit, before they made their decision, most of the conversation was about giving back,” Chrysler says. “They wanted to understand our philanthropic efforts here and what that environment was like. That was very unique from a site selection standpoint, to spend that last meeting not talking about the technical aspects of the project, but really
focusing on the community efforts. And that is part of what makes them special.”
McDonald says the approach will have a far-reaching impact in the Columbus Region. “One of the first things they asked when the project was about to become public was, ‘Who should we be talking to? Who are the community organizations that we should start connecting with to actually become a part of the community?,’ ” he says. “The economic impact is great, but it’s certainly enhanced by who the company is, because their impact is not just going to be economic.
“Over time, they’re going to become a major employer in our market,” McDonald says. “I think of all the great things that major employers do for us—their contributions are reaching nonprofits across the city and across the region.”
Feather in the Cap
Amgen’s large investment is another feather in the cap of the Columbus Region’s growing profile in the industry.
In the early 2000s, Ohio State University and Nationwide Children’s Hospital laid the groundwork with academic research in the field of cell and gene therapy. Since then, a number of major investments and expansions have been announced, with most coming in just the past two years.
Sarepta Therapeutics is expanding its Gene Therapy Center of Excellence, AmplifyBio is focusing on the research and development of next-generation therapies from a lab in West Jefferson, Forge Biologics is setting up gene therapy manufacturing in Grove City and Nationwide Children’s launched Andelyn Biosciences to manufacture gene therapy products for the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry.
It all adds up to the Columbus Region being on the cutting edge of innovation in biotech. Amgen, being one of 30 companies making up the Dow Jones Industrial Average, brings a new level of visibility. The company employs nearly 25,000 people worldwide.
“I think the best marketing we can do is through these success stories,” McDonald says. “Success begets success, especially in this market. These are more than just powerful testimonies; they’re a validation of some of the work that people have done in this region for decades.”
Article originally published in Columbus CEO magazine.