As Allergan cuts ribbon for new facility in New Jersey, talk is all about jobs

Posted: September 10, 2012

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. - Jobs - keeping them, finding the right people for them, and which presidential candidate will generate more of them - is among the nation's biggest issues right now.

The drugmaker most famous for Botox, Allergan Inc., cut the ribbon on a new facility here last week, and many pieces of the employment puzzle and debate were on display.

Allergan's headquarters is in Irvine, Calif., only six sunny miles from the Pacific Ocean, but it came east to expand because of the talent in this region.

Young Zhu leads Allergan's biostatistics department, but he has employees who commute from Delaware to this part of middle-to-northern New Jersey for the sake of a job amid the tumultuous employment situation in the pharmaceutical sector.

U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R., N.J.), U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) and Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno were among the politicians of both parties who spoke at the ribbon cutting, all suggesting they or their bosses were the biggest fans of drug companies moving to New Jersey, which Lance called the "medicine chest of the world."

Allergan chief executive officer David Pyott said his company considered New Jersey, Pennsylvania and, to a lesser extent, North Carolina.

"There were a lot of 'To Lease' signs up, but the real issue we had wasn't space. It was people," Pyott said of not expanding in California. "We were spending a lot of money transplanting people from the East Coast to the West.

"Some people are willing to move and like the idea of California dreaming, et cetera, until they took a look at real estate and realize their New Jersey house would buy a shack in California. It did come down to talent availability and dollars and cents."

Allergan, with 10,500 employees around the world, already had a small facility in Bedminster, a few miles north of here. Workers there will eventually move to Bridgewater.

Guadagno, borrowing the bravado of her boss, Gov. Christie, told the assembled Allergan employees, other politicians, and reporters that drug companies need to be in the state "to have your ticket punched in New Jersey."

But she also said it was Christie's "first win" in his Partnership for Action, an initiative to attract business. Christie met with Allergan officials during a trip to California in 2011.

"If you want to come to New Jersey, we will fight to bring you here," Guadagno said. "We know companies like Allergan have choices. We know we had competition across the river."

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority approved a $14.9 million grant if Allergan adds 387 jobs in the first two years, with potential for more if further jobs are created.

Allergan's application said it was also considering King of Prussia, but Pennsylvania says it never had talks with Allergan. Department of Community and Economic Development spokesman Steven Kratz said, "In this instance, Allergen did not engage with the commonwealth and looked at other locations for its project."

Allergan said in a statement that it approached the CED through a third party that did not disclose Allergan's identity.

Either way, once it decided on New Jersey, Allergan thought about infrastructure for keeping and attracting employees.

"Specifically to Bridgewater, it likely became a question of where do the freeways intersect," Pyott said.

Allergan had earnings of $934.5 million on revenue of $5.4 billion in 2011 and expects $5.8 billion in revenue for 2012. It is growing because of its glaucoma drugs and the many uses it has found for Botox, wrinkle-removing and otherwise. In a case brought by the U.S. Justice Department over allegations of off-label Botox marketing, Allergan entered a misdemeanor guilty plea and paid a $600 million penalty in 2010. Regardless, Allergan's growth in revenue - and head count - differentiate it from many other drug companies, most of which have facilities in the region.

Allergan medical writer Erica Johanson is among the approximately 60 employees in the Bedminster facility, and she said her colleagues include former employees of Schering Plough, Merck and Roche.

Allergan's leader of research and development, Scott Whitcup, said the expansion began in 2008 in a search for biomedical statisticians and continues because Allergan keeps a lot of clinical research in-house, defying another industry trend. The best of those people have a "unique skill set," he said, because they must design and write clinical trial plans prospectively, gaining approval of regulatory agencies, and then follow them to the letter.

"Any deviation in that process will get your application rejected," Whitcup said.

Young Zhu, 56, was the first one hired. He worked for Abbott Laboratories in Chicago before moving to Princeton Junction. From there, he took the train to New York to work for Pfizer, then drove to Titusville on the Delaware River during his time with Johnson & Johnson. His Allergan bosses talked for a bit about him moving to California, but he's glad he stayed and proud that he helped build the group that is now expanding in New Jersey. Yet, most of all, he's glad he has a job with a company adding more people.

"I have a lot of friends in New Jersey with 20 years of experience who have lost jobs," he said. "I've received a number of calls from people at Johnson & Johnson, Bristol-Myers [Squibb] and Sanofi, too. People know that Allergan is expanding."


Contact staff writer David Sell at dsell@ phillynews.com or 215-854-4506. Read his blog at www.philly.com/phillypharma and on Twitter @phillypharma.

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