Local, state and federal politicians joined Novo Nordisk executives Monday as the company broke ground on a new $1.8 billion insulin manufacturing facility in Clayton.
The project, the largest single manufacturing investment in state history, will double the Danish drugmaker’s workforce in Johnston County by creating 700 new positions.
Novo Nordisk’s existing Clayton facility assembles insulin injecting pens. The new plant will be the company’s first outside of Denmark to manufacture drugs themselves, including an insulin pill that’s still in trials, said Henrich Wulff, a Novo Nordisk executive vice president.
“This is the first time we’re bringing this type of technology outside our own country,” Wulff said during a groundbreaking ceremony Monday afternoon. “To us, this is a really big deal.”
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Gov. Pat McCrory, Sen. Richard Burr, Rep. David Rouzer and nearly all the members of the Johnston County Board of Commissioners and Clayton Town Council attended the event.
“We’ll have two parties, this one where we dig the hole, and then another one four years from now when we’ve filled it up,” Lars Sørensen, Novo Nordisk’s CEO, said.
When completed, the Clayton complex will be the company’s second largest facility, after its operations in Kalundborg, Denmark, Sørensen said.
“The people here are skilled and capable,” Sørensen said of the company’s Johnston County workforce. “We thought it better to bite the bullet.”
McCrory credited teamwork in Johnston County with landing the Novo Nordisk expansion.
“They could have picked anywhere in the United States to put the this expansion,” the governor said. “ ... It took teamwork to make this happen and it will be felt for generations to come.”
Novo Nordisk will receive a sizable incentive package, including a $15.9 million Job Development Investment Grant , which McCrory said was the largest the program has ever granted.
Johnston County will refund $94 million in taxes over the next 15 years.
“We’ve agreed to share some of the risks of this investment and in return the county and the company will both benefit,” Tony Braswell, chairman of the Board of Commissioners said, adding that the county could see as many as 5,100 full and part-time jobs from the full scope of the project.
Beyond the local economic impact, elected and company officials said the project is significant for efforts to improve diabetes treatment. The Centers for Disease Control estimates 29 million Americans have diabetes, including nearly one million North Carolina residents.
“This is not a sexy area of research,” Sørensen said. “It is nonetheless one of the biggest cost drivers in healthcare.”
The stretch along U.S. 70 in Clayton where Novo Nordisk is building the new plant has become a center for pharmaceutical production. Grifols, a Spanish blood plasma manufacturer, is also in the process of expanding its Clayton operations next door to Novo Nordisk.
Gary Lohr, project director for the Novo Nordisk expansion, said his company is excited about the growth in the area.
“The people who work in these companies sit on town boards, live in this community and share a social responsibility,” Lohr said. “We’re drawing talent to the area and believe the talent bench is deep enough to go around.”
The groundbreaking fell less than a week after the state General Assembly held a one-day special session to pass House Bill 2, which restricts local governments from passing discrimination protections for gay and transgender residents. McCrory held a press conference after the groundbreaking, saying the new law did not take any rights away.
Company executives said the bill, had it been an issue in August when the expansion was announced, would not have influenced their plans for Clayton. Novo Nordisk said in a statement that it has its own discrimination policy for workers.
“As a major employer in the state, we have a responsibility to foster equality at work for all of our employees,” the statement read. “We value diversity and inclusion, and have policies that provide our employees a workplace free of discrimination and harassment, including discrimiation based on gender identity or sexual orientation.”
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson