County OKs incentives to French biotech company

Feb. 11, 2013 @ 08:38 PM

County Commissioners voted 4-0 on Monday to give a biotech company based in the Treyburn Corporate Park a $400,000 business incentive deal to help finance an expansion of its facility.
The pledge came about two weeks after state officials said bioMérieux Inc. would be getting a $200,000 grant from the state. The incentives will help finance a $48 million, 25,500-square-foot addition to the firm’s plant.
Commissioners approved the local match for the state’s money without debate, after Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce President Casey Steinbacher told them the company fits right into her group’s recruitment strategy.
The chamber likes to target biotech firms, manufacturing and headquarters operations. Steinbacher said bioMérieux offers all three, given that the French firm’s U.S. headquarters is in Treyburn.
And “we still are in competition with other sites for this,” she added, alluding to possibilities the company’s said to have in Brazil, India and China.
But recent history says the offer of a local incentive means the competition is effectively over. Local and state officials generally know by the time of an incentives vote that a firm is leaning toward building or expending in Durham.
bioMérieux makes a variety of test and diagnostic products, with the Treyburn plant focusing on one that’s used to screen blood cultures.
The company’s most recent annual report said it’d been tinkering with its production base, by among other things discontinuing work at a facility in Portland, Ore., and adding production capacity in Durham.
It employs 108 full-time manufacturing employees at the Treyburn plan. Deputy County Manager Marqueta Welton said the expansion project would preserve 33 of those jobs and enable to company to add another 44.
She added that the new jobs would on average pay $50,000 a year – a figure that implies about $2.2 million a year in additional payroll.
The only questions about the proposal came from Victoria Peterson, a community activist who voiced skepticism about the salary estimates, questioned whether the company is hiring graduates from N.C. Central University and wondered if its work poses a risk of contamination to drinking water.
But commissioners voted without asking Welton or company officials to address those issues.
Commissioners Chairman Fred Foster said officials had “taken those down” and would relay answers to Peterson later.