For Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corporation President, Lou Kennedy, overseeing construction of the company’s new 408,591-square-foot facility in South Carolina has been hands-on. She wouldn’t have it any other way.
“This is my baby,” Lou says. “I always like to say that my husband has four daughters, he has two, I have one, and Nephron is the fourth. It gets that much attention. My family would probably say it gets more.”
Like any proud parent, Lou is eager to show off key features: the grand entry way with a winding staircase, rainwater collection mechanisms, slanted ceilings to flood in sunlight, a rooftop employee area and state-of-the-art equipment installed by international vendors, just to name a few.
“I didn’t want it to be just a big box. I wanted this to feel like a place where a company would be happy to have their drugs made,” says Lou, a Lexington County native. “We’ve made an investment in technology, in fuel efficiency, in all types of efficiency with this initial investment.”
Two years in the making, the Orlando, Fla.-based drug manufacturer announced it would locate its new operations in South Carolina in 2012. Company officials say the $313 million investment is expected to generate more than 700 new jobs in the next decade.
Located near the new Amazon distribution center off two major interstate highways, Nephron’s new facility is located on 100-acres — plenty of room for the business which plans to grow the site to a one million-square-foot campus for making eye drop medications, respiratory medicine, vaccines and injectable drugs. State officials were among the first to praise and celebrate the company’s 2012 announcement, calling it a big win for the area.
“Nephron Pharmaceuticals’ investment and new jobs will have a huge positive impact on our state,” South Carolina Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt mentioned in a release. “This new facility will be a major boost for our pharmaceutical manufacturing sector. Today’s announcement is the largest one in the state’s life sciences industry this year.”
Central SC Alliance Chairman Jim Apple called the announcement a game-changer. “This company is a market leader that produces millions of units of life-saving medications every year right here in the United States and shortly, the product will be coming out of Lexington County,” he says.
Enthusiasm from state leaders, great partnerships and incentives were a major part of luring the company to South Carolina, Nephron officials say. Among the incentives were a multi-million dollar grant for site preparation and infrastructure, job development credits and training support by local technical colleges and readySC™, a longtime workforce training program.
“This plant was 100 percent designed for Florida and at the last minute, I became aware that I might want to bring it to South Carolina,” Lou says. “I made the calls. Someone from commerce was there within two days. Next thing I knew Midlands Tech said they could do apprenticeships, training and certifications. And readySC™ offered training, so it’s been like a love affair between our company and all the groups involved.”
Another draw was the University of South Carolina. USC alumni and South Carolina natives, Bill and Lou Kennedy founded the Kennedy Pharmacy Innovation Center at the South Carolina College of Pharmacy. And Nephron has already hired graduates of the pharmacy school to work at the new site.
USC President Harris Pastides says, “I am gratified that Lou and Bill Kennedy, who have already established the Kennedy Pharmacy Innovation Center at Innovista, see the University of South Carolina and our state as locations to further their commitment to pharmaceutical manufacturing with world class quality and efficiency. Their vision and keen business acumen have led to an important second step in increasing innovation and the knowledge economy in South Carolina.”
Starting Spinoffs and A Lot of Buzz
Nephron proved to be an economic boon for the state, even before the first pharmaceuticals are made, packaged and shipped from the new South Carolina facility.
At readySC™, officials partnered with the company to assist with recruitment and training. Officials with the workforce training group say training includes good manufacturing practices and some components of post-hire, on-the-job training.
“readySC™ is actually an incentive for doing business in South Carolina,” says Susan Pretulak, vice president of economic development and workforce competitiveness for the group. “When companies like Nephron are looking to locate to South Carolina, we often join our partners at the table to look at the services we can bring to them. We’ve worked very closely with Nephron to make sure that the things we are doing there reflect the skills, knowledge and abilities of those jobs as well as the recruiting timeline.”
By early February, readySC™ had trained more than 50 people for Nephron’s new site, Kent Bedenbaugh, area director for readySC™, says.
“They’ve had a tremendous amount of applicants. There are not a lot of pharmaceutical companies, so a lot of graduates both local and from other areas are applying for these opportunities and these jobs,” says Kent.
readySC™ is just one of the groups partnering with Nephron. The drug manufacturer is already working out of a facility at Midlands Technical College, and the technical school is offering training to prepare workers for production at the new site.
“We are providing a number of training programs and other things for the company,” says Alan Grier, program coordinator for procedural technology at Midlands Tech. “We’ll be making tools for them, and we’ll provide training programs. People will need basic science courses, biochemistry and other skills to work there, and we’re helping to fill that need.”
Nephron officials also see potential for startups and spin-offs. “I feel like there are going to be startups that are looking for capital or a place to manufacture,” Lou Kennedy says. “Maybe they make it in a lab, but don’t have the ability to manufacture. Well, we have the lab. It will be a beautiful partnership. People have already contacted me, and the minute they heard the word pharmaceuticals, it started a buzz, from the moment we announced it.”
The company has its sights set on growth too and already has expanded 300 percent since Lou joined the company in 2001. Plans for another venture are “very possible,” but Lou won’t elaborate.
“Bigger” is the first word that comes to mind when Lou thinks about what Nephron might look like a year from now.
“We want to have these products made and provide more offerings to the public,” Lou says. “I’ve always been in sales in some capacity, and selling for our company is a blessing because the prices are low, we have great quality, we’re generic and we’re saving people’s lives.”
Plus, Lou has the added benefit. “Someone said, ‘Welcome to South Carolina.’ I said, ‘Welcome? I’m just back,’” she adds. “This is my home. My parents are here, my daughter’s here in school and everyone understands my accent here. So it works out well.”