Ventana announces $180-million, 500-job expansion in Oro Valley

October 20, 2010

By Flinn Foundation

When Severin Schwan made his first visit to southern Arizona in 2008, the Roche Group CEO made headlines by predicting that his company’s newly acquired hub for diagnostics, Ventana Medical Systems Inc., would add 250 jobs by the end of 2009. It seems that was just a start.

On Oct. 13, Roche announced that over the next five years it will be adding another 500 jobs on Ventana’s Oro Valley campus, which would push the company total to nearly 1,500. To facilitate that growth, Roche will invest $180 million in new on-site capital projects.

“We are poised to keep growing to meet the demand, both national and international, for our products and services in the cancer-diagnostics arena,” said Ventana President Hany Massarany in the Arizona Daily Star.

Ventana first became commercially viable developing and selling devices for pathologists to automate tissue-sample staining and slide preparation. Since the technology was spun out of the University of Arizona in 1985, the company has broadened, now also marketing companion diagnostic tests, such as PATHWAY HER-2, an antibody that indicates whether a breast-cancer patient is likely a good candidate for the drug Herceptin–manufactured by another member of the Roche group, Genentech.

Thomas Grogan, who launched Ventana while a UA pathology professor, said in Inside Tucson Business that he never imagined his company would become as big as it is.

“But some people would say it was predictable,” Grogan said. “We came up with an invention that was very useful to all people around the world. And that’s what Roche saw when they purchased us. It’s great to see the expansion and it is nice to see it remain here where we started.”

In order to ensure that Roche would expand in Oro Valley rather than one of its other research and development sites around the world, several Arizona groups assembled a package of incentives:

  • Gov. Jan Brewer approved distribution of $2 million in federal stimulus funds to support job training at Ventana;
  • Pima County authorized the waiver of $8.2 million in property taxes over 10 years;
  • Oro Valley agreed to rebate up to $1 million in infrastructure impact fees.

The benefits won by those incentives include an average salary of more than $70,000 for the new jobs. Massarany said those positions will be in a variety of fields.

“We have received word the commitment has been made and we are in the planning stages of how to best utilize that now,” Massarany said in Inside Tucson Business. “At this site we have manufacturing, national sales and marketing, HR, IT, finance, and organizational positions, so there will be a wide range of people we need to hire to fill our needs.”

The capital improvements on the Ventana campus will generate additional jobs; though temporary, those construction positions are welcome in a sector facing the likelihood of no overall employment growth in Arizona for at least two more years.

Several speakers at the Oct. 13 announcement cited the halo effect that Roche’s investment could have on additional companies expanding or locating in southern Arizona.

“This project raises Arizona global competitiveness in bioscience and will have a lasting impact as we compete to attract other global companies,” Gov. Brewer said in the Daily Star.

“We are looking at a critical mass in an industry segment, and this gets us close,” added Robert L. Davis, a commercial real-estate broker for Grubb & Ellis, which is marketing parcels at Innovation Park, the Oro Valley development where Ventana is headquartered.

Also at Innovation Park is a drug-development unit of the pharmaceutical giant sanofi-aventis, and nearby is BIO5 Oro Valley, a new outpost of UA’s BIO5 Institute.

“I’m excited about this. Sanofi-Aventis and Roche are two of the biggest (bioscience companies) in the world,” said Ray Woosley, president and chief executive officer of the Critical Path Institute, in the Daily Star. “They actually took what was spawned at the university and grew it into something that has had a global impact.”

For more information:

How Oro Valley landed 500, $75,000 a-year jobs,” Inside Tucson Business, 10/15/2010

Roche solidifies local presence,” Arizona Daily Star, 10/14/2010

Drug giant Roche to add 500 jobs here,” Arizona Daily Star, 10/13/2010

Governor Jan Brewer Welcomes Ventana Medical Systems Expansion, 500 Jobs Investment Will Advance Tissue-based Cancer Diagnostics,” Office of the Governor news release, 10/13/2010