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Lens-maker Alcon confirms $250M, 250-job expansion in Atlanta

Thursday, October 08, 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Angela King
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Alcon Laboratories confirmed today plans to invest $250 million in an expansion at its contact lens manufacturing hub in Metro Atlanta

The 850,000 square foot operation in Johns Creek, which employs 1,700 people, is Alcon’s largest contact lens manufacturing hub in the world. Atlanta beat out Singapore and Germany for the project, which will create about 250 engineering and production jobs.

Atlanta Business Chronicle first reported the news Oct. 5.

"The world is taking notice of this state," Georgia Gov. Deal said at an event announcing the economic development project Thursday morning.

Alcon chose to invest in Georgia based on the airport infrastructure, universities, and diverse talent, Alcon's Atlanta General Manager Rob Meyers said. Meyers declined to disclose how much manufacturing capacity will increase following the investment, only saying it is "significant."

Alcon is owned by Swiss health-care company Novartis AG (NYSE: NVS). The Metro Atlanta campus, one of the largest private employers in Johns Creek, had been Ciba Vision headquarters until Alcon merged with Ciba Vision. Alcon has added more than 550 jobs at its Johns Creek campus since 2013.

Metro Atlanta is seeing a surge in interest from the medical device industry, said David Hartnett, vice president of economic development at the Metro Atlanta Chamber, who was involved in the Alcon expansion project.

“We are seeing a 15 percent to 20 percent increase in medical device manufacturing projects actively looking at Metro Atlanta, compared with the past year,” Hartnett said.

The region has attracted several major health care-related advanced manufacturing projects in recent years. Baxter International Inc. built a $1 billion plasma fractionation plant in Covington, Ga. that employs more than 1,000. Osmotica Pharmaceutical Corp. invested $20 million in an R&D and manufacturing plant in Marietta. And, Seattle-based Dendreon Corp. picked Atlanta’s southside for a cancer treatment manufacturing plant.

Georgia is an attractive destination for life sciences-based manufacturing, whether it be pharmaceuticals or medical devices, because the region’s technical and research schools produce a steady supply of skilled talent. A globally connected airport and seaport, coupled with robust Interstate access, means manufacturers can get product and people in and out of the region quickly.

Metro Atlanta’s competitive operating costs — manufacturing costs can be 25 percent to 30 percent lower than, say, New Jersey — also helps attract big-ticket projects, Hartnett said.

The Georgia Department of Economic Development team, led by Mary Ellen McClanahan, played a “key role” in landing the project, Hartnett said. The state’s ability to rapidly tailor workforce training programs to meet Alcon’s “highly specific” skills need was critical in winning the investment, he said.

Past economic development successes also played a role. Baxter’s decision to plant its $1 billion processing factory likely instilled confidence in Alcon that the region could support a large manufacturing operation.

Baxter did extensive due diligence on metro Atlanta market, which may have de-risked Alcon’s decision to invest in the region, said Hartnett, who was not involved in the Baxter deal.

“When you get major economic development projects, it’s an indication that some real bright people are making a big bet on Atlanta,” he said.

The Alcon investment is the second phase of an expansion at Johns Creek in early 2013. That project, which involved a $250 million investment and 340 new jobs, was completed last year and involved the construction of a 70,000 square foot addition to Alcon’s manufacturing plant. The Johns Creek team’s ability to prove they could execute on the 2013 expansion led Alcon to reinvest.

The contact lens business is part of Alcon’s vision-care division. Alcon also does contact lens manufacturing in Indonesia, Malaysia Singapore and Germany.

The U.S. contact lens manufacturing business, a $3.8 billion industry, grew at an average 3.2 percent annually over the past five years, according to research firm IBISWorld.

Novartis is the No. 2 player in the domestic contact lens manufacturing industry, trailing Johnson & Johnson, IBISWorld analyst Melissa Imbruglia said.

Alcon has been investing heavily in research and development in the contact lens and corrective lens markets, Imbruglia said.

Expanding manufacturing capacity in Atlanta makes sense because of the region’s logistical advantages, the analyst said. Alcon’s investment also fits into the trend of biotech companies expanding in the Southeast, Imbruglia noted.

Source. Atlanta Business Chronicle. http://www.bizjournals.com/atlanta/blog/a-healthy-conversation/2015/10/lens-maker-alcon-to-confirm-250m-250-job-expansion.html?ana=e_du_pap&s=article_du&ed=2015-10-08&u=q1%2BEnOO0bIrUsLJdAILw9sm0LCi&t=1444331679


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