Novartis reassures Holly Springs leaders

aspecht@newsobserver.comMay 21, 2014 

— The Novartis pharmaceutical plant, which makes flu vaccines, likely isn’t leaving town any time soon, a company representative told Holly Springs leaders Tuesday.

In fact, the facility is expanding and hiring, said Chris McDonald, a site manager for the plant.

Mayor Dick Sears invited McDonald to speak at the Tuesday council meeting to “present the facts” after Novartis announced last month that it plans to sell its influenza business, which includes the $1 billion plant in Holly Springs that employs more than 500 people.

The Swiss company has begun soliciting bids for its flu vaccination business, McDonald said. It hopes to sell by mid-2015, when it plans to complete the sale of the rest of its vaccine business to GlaxoSmithKline.

McDonald said he “can’t speculate on the outcome of that bidding process,” but believes the Holly Springs facility is “an attractive asset.”

Furthermore, he said, Novartis remains committed to fulfilling its obligation to the federal Department of Health and Human Services, which it signed a 25-year contract with in 2009 to make flu vaccines from the Holly Springs plant.

McDonald said Novartis makes vaccines to address pandemics as well as the common flu strain that changes each year. He said demand for business at the Holly Springs plant is so high that the company is undergoing a $50 million capital project to expand the facility.

“We’re too busy to think about what the future is,” he said. “We’re continuing to grow.”

The company recently hired nine new employees and still has about 15 open positions, he said.

“The bottom line is this facility is growing and we’re excited about the future here in Holly Springs,” McDonald said.

The only change McDonald mentioned coming to the Novartis plant will be the sign.

“There’s still some uncertainty as to who’s name will be on the building,” he said.

Council members said McDonald’s comments didn’t come as a surprise. They said they have a good relationship with Novartis and are fairly certain the jobs at the plant aren’t going away.

If a company is interested in Novartis’ flu vaccine business, “Why would they want to come in and get rid of highly skilled employees who have been there for years?” Sears asked. “They wouldn’t.”

Council members said they hoped McDonald’s comments would help dispel rumors on the town’s “active gossip vine,” as Councilwoman Linda Hunt Williams put it.

“Everything’s good,” Councilwoman Cheri Lee said after McDonald’s presentation.

Others nodded in agreement.

“It’s not going away tomorrow,” Councilman Tim Sack said.

Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht

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