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7-28-06 "Orkin" tract (Oconee & Clarke Counties) needs "grooming" for future prospects ...

After that exercise, I proposed to Athens-Clarke and the owners of the Orkin property that we work on a "plan" for a joint venture - ”the owners provide the land and the two counties do the engineering and some infrastructure. ALAS, it was not to be!¦ Doc Eldridge and I tried to work out an agreement during my last months in Office but the Athens-Clarke Commission did not want to proceed.



July 26, 2006


“Orkin” tract (Oconee & Clarke Counties) needs “grooming” for future prospects


By Wendell Dawson, Editor, AVOC, Inc.


The recent courting and rejection of the Orkin Tract is not a new thing.   This exercise has been repeated several times in the last 15 years or so.I was personally involved in at least three “high tech” large prospects looking at the Orkin site, the largest being the Mercedes deal in 1992.


I was in meetings with area leaders, the Governor and the prospects.I was present when the incentives package was offered to Daimler by Governor Zell Miller.Much effort went into the Mercedes deal- over a three day period.For some history, see links below.


There were other occasions when state officials came with prospects to the site.One time, I was asked to ride in the Governor’s helicopter and point out area features (i.e. Sanford Stadium) as we flew over Athens to the site.


After that exercise, I proposed to Athens-Clarke and the owners of the Orkin property that we work on a “plan” for a joint venture—the owners provide the land and the two counties do the engineering and some infrastructure.ALAS, it was not to be… Doc Eldridge and I tried to work out an agreement during my last months in Office but the Athens-Clarke Commission did not want to proceed.


The Orkin Tract reminds me of the 1960s and 1970s with the Watkinsville Industrial Park on GA 15.Several prospects were shown the site but did not show interest.   At Development Authority meetings, we discussed the fact that we were basically showing a “cow pasture” and “what we could do”.   It was only after the County built roads, ran water and moved the GA DOT maintenance headquarters and the County Road Department from Experiment Road (GA 53) to the Industrial Boulevard that things began to happen.


The Orkin Tract is a unique tract of land.It is a great asset to this area.It needs some leadership, investment and effort to realize its potential.   Otherwise, we are only showing “a cow pasture” without the fences or cows......


Some history of efforts and lack of effort on the Orkin Tract:

6-19-06 Progress on Oconee and Athens-Clarke “Orkin Tract” long overdue

2-24-06 Sewer needs and issues in Bogart- Downtown, Benson’s & Politics

7-9-04 Oconee Studying and Postponing Most Projects and Problems Part 2

8-14-04 Joint Vision Statement for University Parkway 2-4-2000

6-24-05 Bogart Should Have Oconee County Sewer Capacity

5-10-04 Oconee Sewer Capacity at Eastville LAS

5-5-04 Oconee County Opened Pandora’s Box With Residential Sewer Policy Change

7-9-04 Oconee Studying and Postponing Many Projects and Problems -- Part 1

2-24-06 Sewer needs and issues in Bogart- Downtown, Benson’s & Politics

7-29-05 What is Real Status of Oconee Sewer Capacity?

4-22-02 Do Freeport & Incentives Really Promote Economic Development?

4-22-05 GA 316, University Parkway, Dreams, Vision and Reality

9-23-04 Oconee To Make Fast Growth Mistake Worse Than MPDs?

7-17-04 Sewer Service is Expensive and Tough to Deliver

5-4-05 Sewer Capacity, Cost and Effort, and Oconee County Plans


7-20-06 Pharmaceutical Company chooses N. C. over Orkin Tract


The Atlanta Business Chronicle



July 17, 2006


Flu vaccine plant goes to N.C.


North Carolina has beat out Georgia for a flu vaccine plant.

North Carolina has agreed to fork over as much as $ million in incentives for Swiss drug maker Novartis to build a flu vaccine plant in Holly Springs, N.C., which is expected to employ 350 people. Novartis put to rest months of speculation Tuesday when it confirmed plans to construct the facility in the Wake County town southwest of Raleigh, N.C.

Georgia had been in the running for the project, pitching the project for 180 acres near the intersection of Ga. 316 and U.S. 78. Georgia proposed some $1 million in incentives to Novartis.

The project is expected to generate an economic impact of more than $67 million over the next five years in North Carolina. In exchange, Novartis will reel in a $ million grant from the One North Carolina Fund and as much as $ million from the state's Job Development Investment Grant program.

In order to maximize its JDIG funds, Novartis must create and maintain 350 jobs at the plant, produce a total gross product valued at more than $.5 billion and produce a positive state revenue impact of about $1 million over the course of the 12-year agreement with the state Department of Commerce.

Novartis officials say jobs at the plant will pay an average annual salary of nearly $0,000, compared to a Wake County average of about $4,270. The company plans to begin recruiting for the jobs in 2007.

The Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics facility will develop flu vaccines from cell cultures, a method believed to be faster than the current egg-derived flu vaccine manufacturing process, which can take up to nine months to complete.

Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics is a division of Novartis AG, based in Basel, Switzerland. The parent company employs more than 96,000 workers worldwide and had 2005 net sales of more than $2.2 billion.

7-19-06 Novartis AG Plant going to N.C. -firm says no to Orkin tract


The Athens Banner-Herald



July 19, 2006


Plant going to N.C.

Vaccine firm says no to Orkin tract


By Blake Aued


An international pharmaceutical giant has chosen North Carolina over Athens to build a $00 million influenza vaccine plant.

Switzerland-based Novartis AG announced Tuesday that it will begin construction on the plant in 2007 in Holly Springs, N.C. The plant will employ 350 people within five years to make 50 million doses of vaccine annually, the company said.

The Orkin tract, a 920-acre piece of land at Georgia Highway 316 and U.S. Highway 78 on the Clarke-Oconee county line, was one of two finalists for the plant, which was known to state and local officials as "Project Aardvark."

A state Department of Economic Development official confirmed Tuesday that Aardvark and the Novartis plant are the same.

Novartis executives did not say why they chose North Carolina over Athens, but it's a topic state and local officials said they would explore in coming days.

"It doesn't end today," said Bert Brantley, a spokesman for the economic development department. "We'll learn from the experience."

No other biomedical companies are currently looking at Athens, but drawing one to Georgia is still a priority for the state, and the Orkin tract would be a logical place because of its proximity to the University of Georgia, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Emory University, Brantley said.

"Obviously, that's a tremendous site," he said. "There's no question, it's an extremely attractive site."

Athens remains in the running for several other businesses, including two plastics companies and a major retailer, according to Drew Page, president of the Athens-Clarke Economic Development Foundation.

"There are other things going on," Page said. "You work on these big projects, and you want them very, very badly, but you don't ignore the bread-and-butter projects that keep the economy going."

The state is moving forward with a planned $4 million biotechnology department at Athens Technical College despite the loss of Novartis, Brantley said.

"That program was on the (priority) list already," he said. "It was a program that was coming independent of this project, and of course we linked the two because it made sense, but my understanding was this program can stand on its own."

The Athens-Clarke Commission voted June 22 to contribute $00,000 to the Athens Tech department, and another $00,000 for road improvements around the Orkin tract.

That $ million will return to the county's economic development fund, Deputy County Manager Bob Snipes said.

"Those commitments were contingent on the company coming here," Snipes said.

Georgia officials had said the first phase of the Novartis plant would cost $00 million and employ 600 people, possibly growing to $ billion and 1,800 employees in future phases.

State, Athens-Clarke and Oconee County officials had offered Novartis a $1 million incentive package that included about $2 million toward buying 183 acres of land, $0 million in property tax abatements over 20 years, and millions more in road work, infrastructure improvements, job training and tax credits for job creation. The economic development department released details of the package Tuesday after Novartis turned it down.

North Carolina agreed to give Novartis at least $ million in incentives, according to the Greensboro News-Record newspaper.

Novartis also received a $20 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to build the plant, according to Reuters news service. HHS distributed $ billion in grants in May to companies that are working on a new, faster manufacturing process based on cell cultures, rather than eggs, Reuters said. Using eggs to make flu vaccine can take nine months, which led to shortages in 2004 when a plant shut down and others couldn't make up the difference in time for flu season.

6-16-06 Background on Georgia pursuit of Flu facilities


The Atlanta Business Chronicle



June 16, 2006


Ga. vying for two flu facilities


Georgia is in the running for possibly two flu vaccine manufacturing plants -- each worth an estimated $00 million to $00 million.

Solvay Pharmaceuticals Inc. has said Georgia is on its list of states being considered for a new flu vaccine facility, while the biotech community is buzzing that Novartis Vaccines & Diagnostics also is scoping out the Peach State.

Solvay and Novartis are two of the five companies that won a massive $ billion federal contract last month to develop new flu vaccines amidst fears of a global flu pandemic.

The race to get a new flu vaccine plant -- whether from Solvay or Novartis -- is expected to be fierce.

Fierce competition

"It's extremely competitive," said Rep. Tom Price, a former physician who is active in the biotech community. "These are good jobs ... it's a clean technology, and it's a technology that has as its goal the betterment of mankind."

Price has been involved with Solvay since the company applied for the federal contract last year. Price and other members of the Georgia delegation, along with state economic development officials, rallied around Solvay's bid for the contract because the company has its U.S. headquarters in Marietta.

Price, who also talked with Novartis officials before they won the contract, said he is aware the company has looked at Georgia as a possible site for its future developments.

Jeff Strane, director of the innovation and technology office at the Georgia Department of Economic Development, said the state has some competitive advantages.

Georgia's 'got a good chance'

"There is a clear dominance in the university output ... in our ability to help supply the resources needed to vaccine production companies," said Strane. "There's the fact that the CDC is here, with more than 6,000 employees who are highly credible in the vaccine development process who become resources."

Georgia supporters are optimistic.

"I think we've got a good chance," Price said. "We've got a very business-friendly state, from the governor's office to the state legislature. We have areas that can accommodate the needs for the placement of a plant, so we're very enthusiastic in our promotion."

A Novartis spokesperson, Eric Althoff, said the company will announce its final decision within a couple of months. In the meantime, he would say only that the company has narrowed the search to North Carolina and several other states.

Novartis, which is part of Switzerland-based Novartis AG (NYSE: NVS), is the second-largest supplier of flu vaccines in the United States, according to the company. The company has already completed Phase III clinical trials of cell culture-based flu vaccines in Europe.

The $ billion federal contract was designed to help pharmaceutical companies create cell-based flu vaccines, which are approved overseas, but not yet in the United States.

Cell-based vaccines are made by growing the flu vaccine virus in cell cultures, instead of the traditional lengthy process of injecting the flu strain into hen eggs and allowing the virus to incubate. Cell-based vaccines can be made much more quickly and efficiently by using the cell cultures instead of hen eggs.

The federal government has cited concerns about the "vulnerabilities" of relying on one type of vaccine production.

Clinic trials to begin this fall

Solvay, which got about $00 million of the $ billion federal grant, is also making swift progress with its vaccines.

Solvay, with its U.S. headquarters in Marietta, is part of a Belgium-based global pharmaceutical company.

The company has been a major supplier of traditional influenza vaccines since the late 1940s. Solvay recently built a state-of-the art manufacturing facility in the Netherlands focused on cell- based technology, and it already has been developing that type of vaccine in Europe.

The company is working on two different strains of the vaccine -- one for seasonal flu and one for avian flu, which is caused by the H5N1 virus. Solvay plans to begin clinical trials in the United States some time this fall, said Neil Hirsch, a Solvay spokesperson.

The company hopes to apply for FDA approval in 2008, since the federal contract calls for Solvay to be ready for commercial-scale production for the 2010-2011 flu season, according to Dr. Laurence Downey, CEO of Solvay Pharmaceuticals.

The company is still searching for a place to build the facility to manufacture the new vaccines, Hirsch said.

For now, the prospect of companies like Solvay simply considering Georgia is enough to please the local biotech community.

"I think it's a great validation of the continued strength of the industry in the South -- whether they end up in Georgia, North Carolina or elsewhere here," said Russell Allen, president and CEO of Atlanta-based BioSouth Inc., which represents the biotech industry in the South.

Georgia has climbed from a ranking of No. 11 in 2001 to No. 7 this year for the number of biotechnology companies located here, according to a 2006 report on the industry from Ernst & Young LLP.

7-20-06 North Carolina ….site ….. was already developed as a business park….


The Athens Banner-Herald



July 20, 2006


Site sways vaccine firm

Workforce training also cited as advantage for N.C.


By Don Nelson


A well-trained workforce and a ready-made industrial site helped convince Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics to build a new manufacturing plant in North Carolina instead of the Athens area.

Novartis announced Tuesday that it expects to invest a total of $00 million to build and operate a new vaccine plant in the North Carolina Research Triangle area at Holly Springs.

The biotech company also considered 183 acres of the Orkin tract, a 920-acre parcel straddling Oconee and Clarke counties at U.S. Highway 78 and Georgia Highway 316. The site, called the Orkin tract because of its ownership by the Orkin family of Atlanta, has long been touted by economic development experts as one of the top industrial "megasites" in the eastern United States.

"The main reasons (Novartis) went to North Carolina was the site up there was already developed as a business park," said Wayne Provost, director of strategic and long-range planning for Oconee County. "The second thing mentioned (by the Novartis CEO) is the workforce training program up there in the Research Triangle."

The Research Triangle, a high-tech research park located between Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, N.C., has a long history of producing qualified, skilled workers for biotech companies, Provost said.

Those two factors outweighed the attractiveness of the Orkin site, but more importantly mean that Novartis can expedite the construction of the plant and production of vaccines in North Carolina, where the company already has two other facilities.

"During the press conference (Tuesday), Novartis officials mentioned the work force," said Bert Brantley, a spokesman with the state Department of Development. "The important thing, they said, was the immediate access to a work force."

Brantley said Georgia officials assured Novartis representatives that the work force could be developed in the Athens area in time for the plant's launch.

"We made a very compelling case for what Georgia, Athens and Oconee County have to offer, but they felt more comfortable in North Carolina," he said.

Because the Orkin tract occupies land in both Clarke and Oconee counties, the two county governments have been working on an intergovernmental agreement to outline each county's role in taxing and providing services, such as water and sewer.

Drew Page, director of the Athens-Clarke Economic Development Foundation, said he expects that agreement to be completed by the end of the year.

But the lack of an agreement did not play a role in the Novartis project, Provost said, mainly because the land Novartis considered lies entirely within Oconee County.

"It was really a non-issue in this whole thing," Provost said. "The site was all in Oconee, and Oconee was going to provide the water and sewer."

The North Carolina business park where Novartis decided to build also has established convenants, Provost said, meaning company executives knew what businesses would be neighbors and what businesses could come in later.

Novartis plans to build the first cell culture-derived influenza vaccine manufacturing plant in the United States in North Carolina, with plant construction expected to begin in 2007, according to a Novartis news release. The facility is expected to open by late 2008 and within five years employ 350 people who will produce 50 million doses of vaccine annually.

7-20-06 Valuable lessons learned from Novartis loss to North Carolina


The Athens Banner-Herald



July 20, 2006                            Editorial


Loss of vaccine plant can teach valuable lessons


"It doesn't end today. We'll learn from the experience."

That's Bert Brantley, a spokesman for the state Department of Economic Development, reacting to news that Switzerland-based Novartis AG has chosen Holly Springs, N.C. over Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties as the site for a $00 million influenza vaccine plant. Part of the 920-acre "Orkin tract," straddling the Athens-Clarke and Oconee county line at Georgia Highway 316 and U.S. Highway 78, had been one of two sites Novartis AG had been giving a serious look. According to Georgia officials, the first phase of the vaccine plant would have created 600 jobs, with the payroll slated to grow to 1,800 people as future phases were developed.

There's no question the Novartis AG plant would have been an economic shot in the arm for a part of the state that has seen hundreds, if not thousands, of manufacturing jobs - particularly in the textile industry - evaporate over the last few years. The Novartis jobs would have been high-paying positions, with average annual salaries approaching $0,000, according to company officials who spoke with the Atlanta Business Chronicle for a July 19 story.

In addition, the plant would have been on the cutting edge of biotechnology. According to media reports, Novartis wants to use the cell culture method to produce its vaccine. The cell culture technique has not yet earned U.S. government approval, but it is a much faster method of producing vaccine than the current method, which requires the time-consuming step of arranging for large numbers of chicken eggs.

The jobs Novartis would have brought to the Orkin tract would have been a catalyst in transforming this area of the state - in particular, the Ga. 316 corridor - into a center for high-tech research and manufacturing.

So, while Novartis' decision to go to North Carolina - where it already operates facilities in two cities, employing more than 600 people - is disappointing, it's encouraging the decision is being seen as a learning opportunity by state and local officials.

Affirming Brantley's statement, officials said this week they would be working in coming days to find out why Novartis opted for North Carolina over the Orkin tract. That's the healthiest possible approach to dealing with the disappointment of losing the Novartis facility. And there are a couple of lessons that already can be taken away from the experience with the vaccine-maker.

The first lesson is that the Orkin tract, long recognized as a prime development site, is capable of attracting the interest of major development prospects. Even if Novartis was using the Orkin tract, and the package of incentives offered by the state and local governments, as a bargaining chip with North Carolina, the company couldn't have used that ploy if the Orkin tract wasn't clearly viable as a potential plant site.

The second lesson is that state and local governments can work to develop attractive and reasonable incentive packages for development prospects. The package offered to Novartis totaled $1 million, including site acquisition and infrastructure development, tax abatements, job tax credits and workforce training. That's certainly a lot of money, but it quickly falls into perspective when balanced against the predicted economic impact of landing the plant. According to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, "(t)he project is expected to generate an economic impact of more than $67 million over the next five years in North Carolina."

Those are the easy lessons, though. In the days ahead, state and local officials must be prepared to ask some hard questions about Novartis AG's choice of North Carolina. Among those questions: Are there issues with the local workforce, such as a lack of education, or a lack of motivation, that make the area unattractive to development prospects? Is the fact that the Orkin tract falls within two political jurisdictions problematic, even if the two counties show they can work together? Are there local infrastructure improvements that could be made to make this area more attractive to development prospects?

Brantley's statement is a clear signal that officials are willing to wrestle with those questions. That's good, because answering those questions today will certainly get this area better prepared to land tomorrow's development prospects.