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Bristol-Myers Squibb to build manufacturing plant at Devens

BOSTON --Drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. said Thursday it will invest at least $660 million to build a biotechnology plant at Devens that will initially employ 350 people and could add hundreds more jobs.

Construction is scheduled to begin in September at the site about 35 miles northwest of Boston and the plant is expected to open in 2009.

It's expected to take about two more years before government inspectors clear the site to begin producing drugs for commercial use, said Jeff Macdonald, a spokesman for New York-based Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Massachusetts politicians hailed the announcement, which they said followed an eight-month competition with other states to land the project.

"Manufacturing across the country and in our state has been depleted over the years, we've been losing manufacturing jobs, and this is a big boost to manufacturing," Gov. Mitt Romney said at a Statehouse news conference.

Bristol-Myers Squibb's long-term investment could eventually total $1.1 billion and 800 jobs, the Republican governor said. But Macdonald said his company had committed to only $660 million.

The plant will be designed to accommodate future growth, which could lead to as many as 550 employees if market conditions support the growth, Macdonald said.

The factory will occupy 750,000 square feet on 88 acres at the former Fort Devens, an Army base decommissioned in the early 1990s that has been the focus of redevelopment efforts.

The plant will produce biologic compounds used to make Orencia, a recently approved rheumatoid arthritis treatment, as well as experimental drugs that have yet to reach the market.

Bristol-Myers Squibb currently makes such compounds -- which differ from chemical compounds traditionally used to make drugs -- at a plant in Syracuse, N.Y., and finishes and packages them in Manati, Puerto Rico.

The Syracuse site wasn't designed for large-scale commercial production, and it cannot meet expected market demand for Orencia, Bristol-Myers Squibb said.

The company said it selected Devens "after a thorough evaluation of potential domestic and international sites."

Romney, who acknowledged the significant role U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., played in bringing the plant to Massachusetts, was flanked at the news conference by Senate President Robert Travaglini, House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, and former House Speaker Tom Finneran, now head of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council. The latter three are also Democrats.

The bipartisan group applauded their collective efforts to land the plant.

The announcement was hailed as a sign of strength for a state economy that has recently experienced slower job growth than the nation as a whole. The state's high cost of living has hurt efforts to attract new employers.

And while the Boston area is home to a cluster of biotechnology firms, most local operations involve research and development rather than manufacturing.

"We were not viewed in a very positive way by businesses looking to relocate," Travaglini said. "We had to demonstrate in very clear terms that we were a partner and we were seriously interested ... This is a huge win."

Finneran said southern states, including North Carolina, were among those in the running for the plant.

Romney said average annual pay at the plant would be $60,000.

The construction plans are subject to a final agreement between the company and the state. State officials said they had agreed to commit $34 million for infrastructure to support the plant. They also agreed to extend investment tax credits.

Bristol-Myers Squibb's announcement came after Procter & Gamble Co. last month said it planned to close one of two former Gillette Co. plants in Devens by year's end and eliminate at least 100 jobs. P&G acquired Gillette last fall.

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On the Net:

Bristol-Myers Squibb: http://www.bms.com

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Associated Press Writer Brooke Donald contributed to this report.

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