By Thomas Gnau
The $270 million nutritional drinks manufacturing plant that Abbott plans to build in Tipp City will be among the company's most important, an Abbott spokesman said.
Health goods manufacturer Abbott Laboratories said Thursday the plant will employ 240 people and produce two Abbott brands, Ensure and Glucerna, for the North American market. Groundbreaking is expected in April with the plant expected to be operational in late 2013, the company said in its announcement.
The project still depends on state and local approval of incentives to Abbott, which officials at both levels of government repeatedly refused to discuss Thursday. And the company itself was saying little about the journey that led to Tipp City.
But Gov. John Kasich said his administration made the case for the company expanding in Ohio at a time when the company -- as he described the situation -- was looking seriously at Indiana.
"They were really on the verge of going to Indiana," Kasich said in a phone interview Thursday. "I asked the CEO of the company (Miles White) if we could make a presentation (and) give us a chance to put our best foot forward. He said we could."
Abbott spokesman Pete Paradossi declined to discuss other locales the company eyed for the plant, but he said the company needed highway access and needed a site that was "shovel-ready."
"This plant is supplying product primarily to the North American market. We build our nutritional plants close to our customers for obvious reasons.
"It will be a significant plant within our global manufacturing network," Paradossi said.
A variety of protein and nutritional drinks are offered under the Ensure name. Glucerna helps with the management of diabetes, Paradossi said.
Publicly traded Abbott (NYSE: ABT) has its nutritional group based in Columbus. The overall company is based in the Chicago area and has about 2,500 Ohio workers, with about 91,000 employees total, Paradossi said.
Paradossi said it was too soon to discuss a jobs application process for those interested in working at the new plant. He did not have an exact date for the planned groundbreaking, but he said it would be next month.
Liz Sonnanstine, executive director of the Tipp City Chamber of Commerce, said the plant will be built on County Road 25A south of the Meijer distribution facility.
The chamber was not involved in talks with Abbott, Sonnanstine said.
"It's a great way to wake up this morning," she said on learning of Abbott's announcement.
Jon Crusey, Tipp City city manager, said there are proposed local incentives that helped draw Abbott to the city, but he declined to talk about them. He said the proposed incentives will be considered at a Tipp City council meeting March 19.
"It was a combination of the local incentives and state incentives," Crusey said.
He called the announcement a "once-in-a-decade" opportunity.
Neither Kasich nor his spokespeople would discuss state incentives, but Kasich said they were instrumental in drawing Abbott. He said Abbott's leaders were concerned about workforce training and location, and Kasich said he assured the company he would be a "good partner."
"If we hadn't had a competitive package, we would have lost," the governor said.
"The project is contingent upon approval of state incentives," said Connie Wehrkamp, Kasich's deputy press secretary. "We expect Abbott to appear before the (Ohio) Tax Credit Authority on March 26, and we'll have more to say about incentives offered at that time."
"As the U.S. population continues to age, particularly baby boomers, this new plant will enable us to meet the fast-growing demand for our leading adult liquid nutrition products, Ensure and Glucerna," John Landgraf, Abbott's executive vice president, global nutrition, said in Abbott's announcement. "It will be a key addition to our global manufacturing network that will allow the company to gain important operational efficiencies."
Miami County Commissioner Jack Evans said most of Abbott's dealings were with Tipp City, the governor's office and U.S. House Speaker John Boehner. The plant will be located in Boehner's congressional district.
"We didn't get that involved in it," Evans said of Miami County government.
Boehner wasn't available for an interview, but his spokeswoman, Brittany Bramell, said she was gathering information about how the state led Abbott to Tipp City.
Ohio politicians were quick to welcome Abbott's announcement.
"This is great news for Western Ohio at a time when the economy is still struggling to get back on track," Sen. Rob Portman said in a statement. "I've been to (Abbott's) Ohio facilities to see firsthand the impressive and innovative work done at Abbott, so I am glad they've chosen to invest further in the Buckeye state. Their decision is a testament to Western Ohio's highly-skilled, talented workforce."
"I commend Abbott for this decision, which will create new jobs in our district, and congratulate our state and local officials for the hard work they continue to do to turn the Buckeye economy around in the face of ongoing challenges from the federal government," Boehner said in his office's release.
"This announcement is huge for our state, and I'm thrilled Ohio will be home to this new facility," Kasich said in his own prepared statement.