Pfizer increases its commitment to region with expansion worth nearly $500 million

One final piece needed to be put into place before Pfizer could proceed with construction of a 400,000-square-foot, multi-story production center where sterile injectable medicines will be made. That piece went into place Tuesday, July 24 when the Michigan Economic Development Corp. decided the pharmaceutical maker would be the first to receive incentives through the Good Jobs for Michigan program.

State, local, and company officials gathered at Pfizer’s Kalamazoo-Portage campus to announce the tax incentive valued at $10.5 million for up to 10 years. To receive the tax break Pfizer has to come through with new jobs with an annual wage that is equal to 125 percent of the regional average wage. It is anticipated that 140 new jobs will be created in the next two years and a total of 450 over the next six years. The jobs are expected to pay from $70,000 to $93,000 annually.

Pfizer employees got the news of the decision to move forward with the project directly after the officials spoke with the media.

Plans call for a $465 million investment in what is described as a Modular Aseptic Processing Facility. And the company says during the next six years, it expects to invest approximately $1.1 billion in Kalamazoo County. That is in addition to the $1 billion Pfizer has invested in the site over the past decade. The local project is part of Pfizer’s $5 billion investment in United States manufacturing operations announced earlier this year.

Construction on the Portage site begins in 2019, is expected to be completed in 2021 and operational in 2024. 

The local campus is the primary global supplier of sterile injectable medicines and active ingredients. More than 150 products are made there and its biggest product is Solu-Medrol, a widely used injectable anti-inflammatory medicine.

The manufacturing site will incorporate the most technically advanced aseptic manufacturing equipment, systems, and design, including multiple, self-contained modular manufacturing lines.  Aseptic in the building’s descriptive name — Modular Aseptic Processing Facility — means it will be free from contamination caused by harmful bacteria, viruses, or other microorganisms. Company officials note that sterile drug product manufacturing is incredibly complex.

Kristen Lund-Jurgensen, executive vice president and president, Pfizer Global Supply noted the work done in the new building is critically important because the drugs made there are injected into people’s bodies. “They have to be of high quality, pure, perfect, so people can trust them. This facility has the workers that are capable of doing that.” 

She also pointed out that the building would be built to LEED standards, certifying design, construction, operation, and maintenance of the building is green and sustainable.

Ron Perry, site leader for the Portage plant, said the new sterile injectable facility will strengthen the site’s role in Pfizer’s global network. Perry explained after the press briefing that each of the modules in the building would be contained so that the drugs being made in each respective module would not mingle or contaminate the others. “The facility will combine cutting-edge technology and a highly talented workforce to assure we remain a trusted and reliable supplier of these therapies to patients,” he said.

The jobs that will be created at the plant will range from those requiring advanced degrees to skilled trade positions, Perry said. Employees will be sought from across the country and local sources. 

Governor Rick Snyder signed the Good Jobs for Michigan bills into law last July. The jobs-initiative package is intended to attract projects that result in a significant number of high-paying jobs with employees making more than the target regional wage.

At Tuesday’s event, Gov. Rick Snyder described Michigan as a state that makes things and because of its background, Michigan gets stereotyped. While auto manufacturing has been very good for the state there are many other products that are made here. Kalamazoo makes pharmaceutical products for which, due to their highly regulated status and how they are used to treat patients, there can be no failure. That these drugs are made locally: “That’s something to be proud of, not to be taken for granted.” 

Portage Mayor Patricia Russel said the city was doing everything it could to “create a favorable business culture” and now it is riding a wave into a new day.

In past years, the agenda for Portage City Council annual retreats always included a discussion of whether Pfizer planned to stay in the area, Russel said. When Pfizer began expanding its profile in Portage two years ago those fears eased. “Pfizer is going to stay in the area and we’re thrilled to have them,” Russel said. “What’s good for Pfizer is good for Portage and what’s good for Portage is good for Pfizer.”

To see the technology and talent involved, follow these links for video interviews with Pfizer Global Supply colleagues based in Portage: Blanca Ortiz-Skelding, senior process engineer; Amber Witt, customer project manager; and Travis Crose, machine repairman.

Read more articles by Kathy Jennings.

Kathy Jennings is the managing editor of Southwest Michigan's Second Wave. She is a freelance writer and editor.