$250M facility to bring 164 high-paying jobs to Alachua
Published: Tuesday, August 19, 2014 at 6:16 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 19, 2014 at 6:16 p.m.
ALACHUA — Coqui RadioPharmaceuticals announced Tuesday that it has selected the city of Alachua to build its $250 million medical radioisotope production facility, expected to employ 164 people at an average salary of nearly $75,000.
The 100,000-square-foot facility will be built on 25 acres of land owned by the University of Florida Foundation south of Progress Park, between County Road 241 and San Felasco Hammock State Preserve.
The facility will make nuclear radioisotopes used in medical diagnoses and treatments for diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, renal disease and bone traumas.
Coqui will be the first company in the U.S. to produce Molybdenum-99 — or Mo-99 — which is used in about 18 million procedures in the U.S. and more than 30 million worldwide every year.
The company expects to submit an application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in mid-2015 and, following the review process, could begin construction in late 2016 or early 2017 and open for manufacturing in 2020, President and CEO Carmen Bigles said.
More than 60 people attended the announcement held by the Council for Economic Outreach at the UF Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator, including business leaders and officials from UF and the city of Alachua.
“I want to say you were all the nicest, brightest people I encountered during selection,” Bigles said. “There’s synergy. There’s empowerment. There’s hope and motivation of wanting to create things and make a change and make a better day every day.”
Asked about the jobs and pay, Bigles said “nuclear engineers cost a lot of money.”
The company chose Alachua among three possible locations to be near UF’s nuclear research reactor, for the opportunity to collaborate with UF engineering and medical researchers and to be in a biotech research park, according to a news release.
David Norton, vice president of research for UF, said the company also will provide job opportunities for UF and Santa Fe College graduates.
“To have the only U.S. facility that produces these isotopes located here in Alachua speaks volumes to where we are within the biotech industry and, perhaps equally important, the potential of what we can become,” he said.
The company incorporated in 2009 to address a worldwide shortage of Mo-99.
Bigles is also the chief financial officer of the Caribbean Radiation Oncology Center, owned by her husband, Dr. Pedro Serrano-Ojeda, with a location in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, and a second under construction in Doral.
The clinic noticed that patients were unable to get their diagnoses because of the shortage, which is expected to get worse as aging international facilities shut down.
International production facilities tend to be older and frequently unreliable, which can delay diagnostics and treatments, Coqui said in a news release. The international facilities also tend to use high-enriched uranium, which can be used to make nuclear weapons.
The Coqui facility would include two research-scale nuclear reactors that use low-enriched uranium.
In response to concerns about shortages, Congress passed the American Medical Isotope Production Act in 2012 to provide incentives for U.S. manufacturers.
Coqui has selected INVAP to design and construct the proposed facility. INVAP is an Argentine firm that has built similar facilities around the world.
The Coqui team includes executives, doctors and nuclear safety experts.
Kevin Tilbury, a planner with Gresham, Smith and Partners who helped with site selection, said the project is nearly 100 percent financed by private investors and public incentive dollars. Coqui plans to go public sometime over the next year.
State and local governments approved up to $1.15 million in Qualified Target Industry tax credits, based on jobs created, with Alachua County and the city of Alachua contributing 10 percent each.
The state also will kick in a High Impact Performance Incentive Grant of $1 million, a Capital Investment Tax Credit that refunds 5 percent of the costs of construction and equipment from state taxes for 20 years, workforce grants of $380,000, various sales tax exemptions to be determined and an economic development transportation grant directly to the city of Alachua to build a new road to the site.
“To bring a project such as this to fruition takes a great effort from both the public and private sectors,” said Alachua City Manager Tracy Cain, citing the city’s efforts to invest in infrastructure, provide financial incentives, foster a business-friendly environment and maintain a high quality of life.
U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Gainesville, was among those to welcome Coqui.
“We’re honored to have you here, and when you see everybody that comes together, chambers, business leaders, biotech parks and scientists and everybody coming together with a focus of creating an economic machine that everybody wins on, that’s how you build a community,” he said.
The announcement follows last year’s announcement by Nanotherapeutics, which is building a $135 million, 165,000-square-foot manufacturing facility near Progress Park expected to employ 150 people.
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