The identity of the company being wooed to a spec building in Lee County’s Central Carolina Enterprise Park through an economic development deal dubbed Project Jupiter was revealed Tuesday – San Francisco-based Audentes Therapeutics has agreed to bring 200-plus jobs and a tax base investment of $109 million to Lee County.
The deal’s completion is set to be announced Tuesday afternoon at a ceremony at the spec building, which the company will purchase and upfit for use. In return, the Sanford and Lee County governments will rebate about $5 million in property taxes over seven years as long as Audentes holds to its end of the deal.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper is expected to speak.
Audentes specializes in gene therapy, much like Pfizer, a competing company which will now be its neighbor. Pfizer announced in August 2019 that it was expanding its existing Sanford location to accommodate a gene therapy operation with 300 new employees and half a billion dollars in tax base investment. The Rant wrote in November about how Pfizer’s expansion could potentially make Sanford the world’s gene therapy capital – particularly since industries like life sciences are known to “cluster.” From that story:
The story surrounding gene therapy is bigger than Pfizer, even. Jimmy Randolph is manager for existing industry development for the Sanford Area Growth Alliance, an organization that played as large a role as any in luring Pfizer’s gene therapy operation to Sanford back in 2017. He said Pfizer’s decision will have reverberations throughout the life sciences industry.
“When (life science industries) see a company like Pfizer making an investment in a community like Sanford, that gets their attention,” he said. “If the talent pool is in place, then we become a viable location for this industry.”
Randolph said SAGA has heard from other life science companies and wouldn’t be surprised at all to see a supply chain business for gene therapy development or even a different company with a similar product decide to set up shop locally.
“One obvious reason for others — and it doesn’t have to be competitors, just folks who work in the same sector or an adjacent sector — to look here is that we have the workforce,” he said.
Added to the Pfizer announcement – which came with no incentive package beyond one approved in 2017 – and 460 new jobs and $170 million in tax base investment announced in September by Indian auto parts manufacturer Bharat Forge, Audentes’ decision means nearly 1,000 new jobs and almost $800 million in new tax base investment since last summer. Each of these deals was negotiated by state officials and the Sanford Area Growth Alliance, and required approval from city and county governments. Both votes split along party lines, with Democrats supporting the agreements and Republicans opposing them.
Additionally, The Sanford Herald reported Tuesday (subscription required) that two other companies – a manufacturer and a textile company – are looking to bring a combined 200 additional jobs to the county:
While community leaders worked to convince Project Jupiter to come to the area, they were also working with a textile company and a traditional manufacturing company who are considering the Sanford/Lee County area as potential locations for their operations, said Bob Joyce, executive director of Economic Development for the Sanford Area Growth Alliance.
“Both companies have made numerous visits to Sanford and Lee County and are in the process of gathering all the information they can to make a decision,” Joyce said.
He said each is expected to make a decision before the end of March.
He declined to name the companies, but said they are located in the United States and would bring a combined 200 jobs to the area.
Audentes itself has an interesting back story. The Life Science Leader had a lengthy report on the company’s short history back in October, noting its early struggles and more recent successes. Japanese company Astellas Pharma announced a $3 billion purchase of Audentes in December – right in the middle of negotiations between Audentes and the Sanford Area Growth Alliance.