FREDERICK — California-based life-sciences company Agilent Technologies Inc. expects to break ground this month on its Frederick manufacturing facility expansion and begin shipments of pharmaceutical ingredients from its new production lines by 2026.
The Weld Count plant, for which the company will receive state and local subsidies for a $725 million expansion effort, is developing therapeutic nucleic acids, known as therapeutic oligonucleotides or oligos.
Those oligos “will enable Agilent to meet growing demand for siRNA, antisense and CRISPR guide RNA molecules,” the company said Monday.
Oligo technology has been around for more than 20 years, but pharmaceutical companies only recently have begun to explore their full potential for treating cardiovascular disease, cancers, and certain rare and orphan diseases, Brian Carothers, vice president and general manager of Agilent’s nucleic acid solutions division, told BizWest.
“A typical pharmaceutical can treat your symptoms, but this has the opportunity to stop the elements that are actually causing the disease,” he said.
Agilent estimates the oligo market at $1 billion and expects it to grow to $2.4 billion by 2027.
The decision to invest in the Frederick plant expansion, which could significantly boost its Colorado workforce, is “yet another example of our focus on investing in high-growth markets while also delivering on Agilent’s mission of improving the quality of life,” Agilent CEO Mike McMullen said in a statement.
The Santa Clara, California-headquartered Agilent began developing its 130,000-square-foot manufacturing facility on 20 acres in the Eagle Business Park adjacent to Interstate 25 in 2016.
The company — which, according to its website, “provides laboratories worldwide with instruments, services, consumables, applications and expertise, enabling customers to gain the insights they seek” — also has existing operations in Boulder.
“Agilent is planning to expand its existing facility located at the northwest corner of Tipple Parkway [and] Eagle Boulevard,” according to documents provided to Frederick planners last year. “The expansion project is anticipated to add 310,000 square feet of manufacturing building, 61,000 square feet of associated office uses, 42,000 square feet of warehouse/central utility plant, 2,000 square feet of drum storage expansion and 10,000 square feet of tank farm.”
Agilent has about 700 workers in Colorado.
The expansion will add 160 workers, Agilent said Monday.
The scope of the expansion also appears to have since been adjusted downward, as Agilent said Monday that the expansion would total 198,000 square feet.
The Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade expects these new jobs to pay an average annual salary of more than $100,000.
“This exciting addition to Colorado’s thriving bioscience and life science industry brings hundreds of good paying jobs to Frederick, Weld County, and our state and builds upon our work making Colorado the best place to live, work and do business,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement.
Last November, the Colorado Economic Development Commission approved the offer of $1.79 million in incentives over five years for the Frederick expansion project, which was then known only as Project Olive. It is the commission’s practice not to identify companies OEDIT is recruiting until incentives are accepted.
Frederick and Weld County, with support from local and regional economic development groups, have preliminarily agreed to chip in an additional roughly $9.4 million over a 10-year period.
“Agilent’s expansion reinforces the confidence businesses have in the competitive advantages of Weld County and Northern Colorado,” said Mike Freeman, the chair of the Weld County Board of Commissioners. “They join a growing list of companies choosing the region for its talented workforce, business-friendly environment, and demonstrated regional support. Agilent’s continued investment in the region not only expands an already successful business, but creates quality, high paying jobs and contributes to our thriving business community in Northern Colorado.”
The expansion in Frederick may not be Agilent’s last.
“This industry is growing,” Carothers said. “… We will have more conversations about capacity. This technology has just started in its growth cycle, and we expect to see a lot more for this in the future.”
The applications and production capacity for oligos are “just the tip of the iceberg,” Carothers said, and the future demand is likely to be measured not in vials or barrels or pounds, but in metric tons.
Agilent selected Frederick for its expansion over a site in the Raleigh, North Carolina, area. That decision represents a major coup for Colorado’s red-hot biotech sector, which the state pegs as responsible for $12.3 billion in annual sales and the employment of more than 32,000 workers.
Boulder Valley has emerged as a particularly attractive place for life-sciences companies, and Northern Colorado economic development leaders have been keen to increase their region’s share of the action.
“Projects like this display the strong partnerships that have been established at the county and local levels”, said Bill Meier, board chair of economic development group Upstate Colorado. “The relationship that Agilent Technologies has developed with the town of Frederick and our network of local partners was key to the success of this impactful expansion of the Northern Colorado bioscience concentration. It made all the difference in achieving success in a complex process. We’re excited to build on this momentum and look forward to Agilent’s continued contribution to the regional economy.”
In the Boulder Valley and Northern Colorado — especially along the U.S. Highway 36 corridor connecting Denver, Broomfield and Boulder — life-sciences and biotechnology companies with a thus-far unquenchable thirst for flex-industrial square footage have kept brokers and builders busy, due in large part to access to talent.
“The key advantage is really the human capital here in Colorado,” Carothers said.
All told, that biotech-related development accounts for “approximately 2.5 million to 3 million square feet of construction … underway or in the pipeline along the Boulder/Denver corridor,” according to a recent report from Boulder-based commercial real estate brokerage Dean Callan & Co. When you add proposed projects that have not been fully permitted, that square footage total is much higher.
Erik Abrahamson, a senior vice president with CBRE, said during BizWest’s Boulder Valley Real Estate Conference held late last year that “life science follows tech. We’ve got the tech.”
He said the University of Colorado is producing the “best in the world” graduates in bioscience. Smaller companies have been swallowed up by larger players, spreading the seeds of capital and talent to foster new generations of biotech startups.