ELKTON — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced on May 6 that global health care leader Merck & Co. plans to invest $1 billion in stages over the next three years to expand its manufacturing operations.
Merck has close to 69,000 employees and delivers health solutions through its prescription medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies and animal health products. The manufacturing plant in Rockingham County has been operating for more than 75 years and has roughly 900 workers on-site, according to a press release.
The expansion will add 120,000 square feet to its existing 1.1 million-square-foot facility to increase production of Gardasil, a human papillomavirus, or HPV, vaccine.
“This is exciting,” Northam said. “For Merck to make a commitment to expand — to invest close to another billion dollars to employ close to 100 more individuals — is just something. I am here to say thank you.”
According to a press release from Northam’s office, Virginia competed with other states for the project anticipated to create close to 100 new jobs.
The Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with Rockingham County, the Shenandoah Valley Partnership and the General Assembly’s Major Employment and Investment Project Approval Commission to secure the project for Virginia.
According to the press release, Merck will be eligible to receive an MEI custom performance grant of up to $7.5 million for stormwater and infrastructure upgrades to support the expansion of the facility that is subject to approval by the General Assembly.
Dominion Energy will provide support to enable the expansion, including substantial infrastructure upgrades.
The company is also eligible to receive sales and use tax exemptions on manufacturing equipment, as well as a Major Business Facility Job Tax Credit for new, full-time jobs created.
Blue Ridge Community College and James Madison University will work with Merck to address short- and long-term workforce needs through the development of a custom solution. BRCC and JMU are eligible to receive up to $2.5 million for the development of a custom workforce solution, according to the press release.
BRCC and JMU will establish a pipeline of biotechnology engineering and computer science talent that will allow the Valley to accommodate the future growth of Merck and other life science industries and manufacturers in the region, according to a press release.
“Really, the key is to be able to train talent here in Virginia at our great colleges and universities and then be able to keep that talent in Virginia,” Northam said. “So this is really a win-win situation for Virginia.”
Northam said he has been asked what his main initiatives for 2019 are, saying “it really is to make sure that Virginia is the most business-friendly and worker-friendly state in this great country of ours.”
“What we’ve tried to do, especially in 2019, is to identify what the jobs of the 21st century are, and they are in areas just like this, in biotechnology and cybersecurity.”
During the announcement, Northam presented Sanat Chattopadhyay, executive vice president and president of Merck Manufacturing Division, with a Virginia flag that has flown over the Capitol in Richmond in hopes the flag would find a new home in Elkton.
“We wish you nothing but success,” Northam said.
Chattopadhyay said it was “indeed a proud privilege and a rare moment” for him to accept the state flag as a symbol of Northam’s support.
Chattopadhyay said he was grateful for the community, as well as the strong partnerships with local and state elected officials, educational institutions and organizations throughout Elkton for helping Merck sustain the commitment to the area’s economic growth.
“It has always been a no-brainer for me to make up my mind about making an investment in Elkton because they have always met and exceeded my expectations,” Chattopadhyay said. “Elkton truly deserves to be considered for these kinds of investments as a bio-pharmaceutical company.”
State Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, said he was excited for the expansion, telling Northam that he came to the “best place in Virginia.”
Hanger said Merck has distinguished itself in the industry of pharmaceuticals, and the commitment by Merck furthers the opportunity in the Valley to be a leader in the field of science and medicine.
“We are able to not only make a good investment because of the good workforce that’s already here and the investment that is already in place here, but also in conjunction with our higher education,” Hanger said.
Mike Breeden, chairman of the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors, said the proposed expansion reaffirms Merck’s commitment to the area.
“Merck is a major corporate player for Rockingham County, so it’s huge for us to know they are going to invest this money back in this business,” Breeden said. “It will bring a lot of jobs. … It’s good news.”
Charlie McCurdy, director of global communications for the Merck Manufacturing Division, said construction for the expansion is already underway.
McCurdy said once plans are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the expansion should be completed by 2021.