BASF investment shows commitment to RTP, according to exec

Sep. 04, 2013 @ 04:24 PM

German chemical company BASF’s $33 million investment in the Research Triangle Park shows the company’s commitment to the area, the “Silicon Valley” of agricultural biotechnology, an executive said Wednesday.

Peter Eckes, president of BASF Plant Science, spoke at Wednesday’s grand opening for BASF’s new, 80,000-square-foot addition to its Davis Drive complex. The company’s operation here is one of the largest of 30 research and development sites that the company has in North America, Eckes said, and the company is committed to growing its activities here.

The company has added 227 positions – 63 percent of them new - in the park between January of last year and June of this year, said company spokesman Charles Whitt. In total, BASF employs about 950 people in the Triangle.

Other employees have been added due to consolidations or moves. The company moved its global headquarters for BASF Plant Science, which is its plant biotechnology division, from Germany due to resistance in Europe to genetically modified crop products. Fran Castle Rowland, a spokeswoman for BASF Plant Science, said the move brought about 15 workers from Europe to the Triangle for the division.

Also, the park is the company’s North American headquarters for the crop protection division, which develops pesticides and other products.

Last year, BASF brought in nearly 78.7 billion euros from sales of automotive to construction to consumer goods products, according to company financial information. Sales from the agriculture solutions division totaled 4.68 billion euros. In the first half of the year, the segment’s sales were up 18 percent to 3.28 billion euros.

Financial information was not available for BASF Plant Science. The segment, which has had operations in the park since 1998, released its first product, a drought tolerant corn, in partnership with St. Louis-based Monsanto this year for growers in the western corn belt, Rowland said.

In addition to comments from Eckes, Wednesday’s unveiling also included comments from Gov. Pat McCrory and other government officials. McCrory described the agricultural biotechnology sector as a niche for North Carolina that the state “continues to build upon.”

The sector merges North Carolina’s history in agriculture with new technology, he said. He also touted the state’s university system as helping the company meet hiring and talent needs.

McCrory also said the company’s investment here means the state will play a role in helping with what he said is a major issue – how to produce food in the future to feed the world’s glowing population.

Robert Kelly, director of the N.C. State University Biotechnology Program, said he thinks there’s an opportunity for agricultural biotechnology to become “much, much bigger” in the state and region.

“This region has a chance to become the world leader in ag-biotech,” he said, bringing an opportunity for more jobs across the state.

Kelly added that he believes that there is still concern about the safety of genetically modified crops, although as gone on and more data has become available, confidence has grown that they don’t present any serious safety threat.

“Having said that, I can understand why some are apprehensive about the use of (genetically modified organisms) because no one can guarantee their safe use over the long haul,” he said in a follow-up email. “But, the risk to benefit ratio needs to be considered and, from that standpoint, responsible use of (genetically modified organisms” seem to be a great deal of sense, in the (United States) and around the world. “