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150 new pharma jobs in Hillsborough hinge on $385,000 incentive deal

Askbio, a Chapel Hill-based biopharmaceutical company, is considering moving into this space at 348 Elizabeth Brady Road if it lands an incentives package from the Town of Hillsborough.
Askbio, a Chapel Hill-based biopharmaceutical company, is considering moving into this space at 348 Elizabeth Brady Road if it lands an incentives package from the Town of Hillsborough. Google Street View

A pharmaceutical company with plans to hire 150 people is eyeing Hillsborough as the home of a new manufacturing plant – that is, if the town gives the company a six-figure incentives package.

The Town of Hillsborough is considering whether it will give Chapel Hill-based Asklepios Biopharmaceuticals (Askbio) incentives worth more than $385,000 to locate a manufacturing facility in the town.

That incentive number is preliminary as the grant remains under negotiation, according to Shannan Campbell, economic development planner for the town.

Askbio – which makes gene therapies for rare diseases like Duchenne muscular dystrophy – said it could begin operating in Hillsborough as early as the first quarter of 2018 if incentives are granted, according to a letter it sent to the town. Efforts to reach Askbio were unsuccessful.

The company is considering a space at 348 Elizabeth Brady Road, a tax-exempt property near the historic Occoneechee Speedway, where it will invest $50 million overall. That address is also listed as the home of the nonprofit OE Enterprises.

When asked if OE Enterprises would be moving from its current location, OE Enterprises President and CEO Margaret Samuels said she had no comment.

Under a preliminary proposal, the town would reimburse up to 75 percent of estimated property taxes if Askbio meets its job and investment goals over five years, a grant potentially worth $385,950.

The company expects to add 25 new jobs next year, and 150 total over a five-year period if it receives the incentives. The average salary would be around $85,000, a figure that is much higher than Orange County’s average annual salary of $57,964.

“Adding possibly 150 jobs in five years just strengthens everything Hillsborough has to offer,” Campbell said. “We already have a great quality of life, but also having a diversity of jobs would give an option to those who commute to Research Triangle Park to live and work in the same place.”

Town documents state that Askbio was also considering sites in Chapel Hill and Research Triangle Park.

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said she had not heard of a request for incentives from Askbio, adding that the city would definitely consider a request if it was made.

She added that Chapel Hill officials had shown the company several potential sites, including in its newly zoned light industrial district off Eubanks Road. That site was specifically zoned to lure manufacturing jobs to Chapel Hill or give companies based there room to expand.

“It’s very exciting that these companies ignite here in Chapel Hill, and we are trying to figure out how to help them grow here and stay here,” she said. “Beyond just the jobs, it's a very good way to keep Chapel Hill growing.”

It’s unclear whether Orange County will join the Town of Hillsborough in offering incentives to Askbio. Steve Brantley, the director of Orange County Economic Development, declined to comment.

Campbell said the town doesn’t need the county’s help to offer incentives of its own.

“We can offer our own,” she said. “If the county joins, that is great, but that is up to the county.”

Campbell added that she wasn’t sure when Hillsborough’s Board of Commissioners will take up the incentives question. The board’s next scheduled regular meeting is Oct. 9.

Zachery Eanes: 919-419-6684, @zeanes

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