Developers of an approximately 80,000-square-foot biotech plant in Vermont’s rural Northeast Kingdom have set a mid-May groundbreaking for the approximately $100-million project. AnC Bio Vermont is a key tent pole in a multi-year regional redevelopment effort whose individual projects will total about a half-billion dollars.
Developers have described the scope and potential impact of the collection of projects, which also include upgrades to the Q Burke Mountain Resort and to downtown Newport, as being unlike anything seen before in the Northeast Kingdom. The region has long had a reputation for being a place where it’s challenging to find work.
“It is the right place,” said Bill Stenger, the president and CEO of Jay Peak, and a developer of the other projects in the works in the Newport area.
Monday, Stenger revealed new details on the AnC Bio Vermont plant. “The community will be delighted,” he promised. “It’s an exciting time.”
Stenger set a May 14 groundbreaking and told reporters he has lined up much of the capital needed for the project, and is working on securing the rest.
AnC Bio Vermont plans to develop medical treatments using adult stem cells, rent out “clean rooms” for stem cell manufacturing, and produce medical equipment including portable dialysis units, explained Jake Lee of AnC Bio Vermont.
“We can reduce treatment cost,” Lee said of the dialysis units. “I'm sure we have opportunity.”
Stenger said it’s rare to be able to lead the way in certain areas of entrepreneurship, as he said is the case with leasing highly-specialized facilities that he expects will be FDA-certified to manufacture stem cells. “It’s not often you can build something for an emerging demand,” Stenger told reporters.
Frost & Sullivan, a San Antonio consulting firm providing market research and analysis, said it agreed the biomedical research park will fill a niche with significant opportunity for growth.
However, the project has been slow to materialize.
Developers blamed lengthy delays with the federal EB-5 system, which lets foreign citizens get a step closer to conditional U.S. residency if they invest money in projects that create jobs here. EB-5 already helped modernize and transform the nearby Jay Peak Resort.
“Interest didn't slow, but approvals did,” Stenger explained, noting what used to take four months recently was taking four or five times as long.
A window maker once a big part of this revitalization effort backed out of the plan in 2013. A location for a waterfront convention center and hotel on Lake Memphremagog has also been difficult for Stenger and partners to secure.
More recently, the state wanted to know why AnC Bio’s affiliate in Korea saw its headquarters auctioned off. “The timing was not in sync,” Stenger told reporters Monday, explaining bonds were due on the property before the cash flow could cover them.
Stenger sought to assure the public that the challenges with the South Korean location will not affect the Vermont venture, noting he maintains total confidence in the upcoming Vermont work.
One way Stenger said AnC Bio Vermont will be able to make a rural location in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom work for it, as opposed to being in a more metropolitan spot, is upcoming work to the Newport State Airport in Coventry.
Stenger said the facility is due for upgrades which will enable it to accommodate larger aircraft. That will make it easier to arrange AnC Bio-related shipping and transportation needs, Stenger said.
The biotech project still will have to go through reviews from regulators with the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, Stenger said. AnC Bio is also planning a ramp-up of job recruiting efforts as it eyes a fall 2016 opening, he added.