A new startup is engineering food right here in RTP
German agriculture giant Bayer’s downsizing in the Triangle continued this week, as the company announced it would officially close its crop science headquarters here and bring 500 jobs to the St. Louis area.
Bayer has consistently moved operations out of the Triangle since it began exploring what ultimately became a $63 billion deal to buy the seed maker Monsanto more than two years ago.
When it announced it was seeking to buy Monsanto, the company said then it would start shifting its North American operations to St. Louis.
Bayer, which once had a headcount of around 1,000 employees in Research Triangle Park, completed its purchase of Monsanto a little more than a year ago and many of those jobs have left already or have been acquired by rivals.
Monsanto itself also previously had a presence in RTP but moved its operations to St. Louis before being acquired by Bayer.
In making the move westward, Bayer could net more than $44 million in economic incentives from Missouri, The Associated Press reported. Bayer has agreed to invest around $164 million in investment into a facility in Creve Coeur, Missouri, and promised to retain 4,400 jobs there as part of the incentives deal.
The 500 new jobs would come from a combination of relocations and new hires, the St. Louis Dispatch reported. It’s unclear if North Carolina was still attempting to keep those jobs here — a spokesman for the state’s Commerce Department said the agency was not involved.
Bayer isn’t completely abandoning the Triangle, however.
Darren Wallis, head of North America Communications at Bayer CropScience, said the company’s environmental science group, which focuses on products like pest management and ornamental plants, will remain in the area. That division employs a little more than 200 people at an office in Cary.
“If you look at their business, one of which is golf courses and pest management, the Southeastern part of the U.S. is a significant part of their investment,” Wallis said.
Wallis added that there isn’t a set timetable yet on when some of those relocations will happen and noted that the 500 new jobs in Missouri will “run the gamut” from research and development to marketing and human resources.
The fact that the environmental science group is located in Cary is specifically related to Bayer’s divestment from the area. To get its deal for Monsanto approved by U.S. regulators, the company was forced to sell off some of its assets, including several properties in RTP.
Last year, fellow German agriculture company BASF made a $9 billion deal with Bayer that gave it control of Bayer’s seed and herbicide businesses.
The move saved many of Bayer’s RTP-based jobs from leaving the region entirely.
BASF got more than just Bayer’s RTP properties — which led to the environmental group moving to Cary — and took on more than 300 employees at the time, The News & Observer previously reported. The Justice Department had singled out Bayer’s Triangle operation, which specialized in genetically modified crops, as one of the keys to the merger settlement, The N&O reported.
Without BASF’s move to acquire Bayer’s seed and herbicide business, the loss of Bayer could have been much worse, said Scott Johnson, the N.C. Biotechnology Center’s leader of agriculture development.
“Clearly by moving their headquarters and executive management, a lot of administration (employees) moved with them to St. Louis,” Johnson said in a phone interview last month.
But BASF’s purchase was a real benefit to the area because 300 employees in the park basically kept the same job.
“The banner on their paycheck changed but not much else,” Johnson said. “I am not going to say there wasn’t an impact (from Bayer’s divestment) but when all is said and done, we only dropped 200-some employees that were in ag tech in the Triangle.”
Another way the area has stemmed the loss of agriculture technology jobs here has been a rise in agriculture technology startups in RTP, Johnson added. He noted that several startups — specifically companies like Pairwise, AgBiome and Elo Life Systems — have grown into medium-sized companies capable of employing nearly 100 people each.
Pairwise, a company that uses CRISPR gene-editing technology to improve plants, actually has prospered, in part, due to some financial backing from Bayer, The N&O previously reported. A spokeswoman for Pairwise said the company was unaffected by Bayer’s moves to St. Louis.
Those startups “round us out,” Johnson said. “These mid-size companies and their dynamic growth are offsetting some of what is going on with the big guys, when they are merging or changing their activity and focus.”
This story was produced with financial support from a coalition of partners led by Innovate Raleigh as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work. Learn more.