Bioscience industry flourishing locally

WORTHINGTON -- In 1997, Newport Laboratories was a fledgling company with no more than five employees. Ten years later, its job growth is almost exponential. Newport Laboratories currently has about 104 people on staff, and has added 40 employees...

WORTHINGTON -- In 1997, Newport Laboratories was a fledgling company with no more than five employees.

Ten years later, its job growth is almost exponential. Newport Laboratories currently has about 104 people on staff, and has added 40 employees since last summer.

"From about 2000 to the middle of 2006, we were growing and probably adding seven or eight people a year," said Wayne Freese, CEO and Chairman of Prairie Holdings Group, of which Newport Labs is a part.

"With these new hires, it's like attracting a whole new company, and several companies," added Randy Simonson, Newport Labs' chief operating officer.

The success of Newport Labs -- and Prairie Holdings Group as a whole -- appears to bode well for the future of the bioscience industry in Worthington and the surrounding area. It's a future that may have strongly positive economic repercussions for the region.


A focus on research

Freese will serve as a moderator during a day-two session at the Worthington 2007 Bioscience Conference, scheduled for March 29-30 at Worthington High School. The theme of this year's conference is "Linking Agricultural Bioscience to Human Health Bioscience."

For Freese, bioscience is about partnerships, along with research and development of new technologies.

"Last year, we moved into our new R&D building -- it's about 11,000 square feet -- and moved into about 7,000 square feet of laboratory space," Freese said of Newport Laboratories.

"In spring 2006, we found out that of all the laboratories out there producing swine vaccine, we were in fourth place," he continued. "We felt pretty good because there are a lot of labs out there, and we're a fledgling company. This year, we found out we're in third place."

Simonson elaborated on the importance of developing new technologies -- and what those efforts can lead to.

"We're adding people in our customer service and our sales areas, but independent of that, we've made a management decision to put even more effort into R&D," he explained. "We're a technology business, and research really is the future."

Research, Simonson detailed, focuses on developing new diagnostic tests, providing vaccines for emerging diseases, being able to assist with livestock production and helping veterinarians deal with a host of complex issues.


As work has continued in those areas, the company has been able to attract highly qualified personnel to work in Worthington. Freese said a former member of the University of Minnesota veterinary school's faculty has agreed to work full-time in the fall (he has been serving as a consultant), and a longtime bioscience professional from Kansas City, Mo., joined Newport Laboratories last December.

"The important thing is we continue to get companies coming to us and wanting to work with us because of our ability to get into the marketplace in a relatively efficient manner," Freese said.

"We've had international companies that are coming to us from Mexico, from Canada, from Chile, Brazil, Spain, France, China. ... All of those companies, with the exception of Spain and France, we've linked deals with to leverage our technology internationally," Simonson said.

A positive outlook

"We're already putting together some long-term plans ... and analyzing our production capabilities for the future," Freese said of the certain need for new space that will result from recent agreements. "We don't have super-deep pockets, so we want to do it carefully and do it right."

Freese noted Prairie Holdings Group has already put about $3.5 million into renovations and additions since its acquisition of the former Prairie Expo property. And, as a result of its successes, it appears its agreement to pay back the state the assistance it gave with the purchase will be completed significantly early.

A partnership with Minnesota West Community and Technical College, resulting in the creation of a lab tech training program, is also expected to pay dividends down the road.

"Our future is research and development," Freese reiterated. "For some people, R&D is survivability, but it's for the future as far as new products and growth.


"I don't want to come across as arrogant, but we're enthused. It's fun to get new people here and develop new products. Small and larger companies are coming to us for novel approaches. ... We're the right size because we can respond to people -- we're not like the battleship in the bathtub, where you can't sink it, but you can't turn it very easily."

Freese is also excited about how the growth of the bioscience industry within Worthington could pay dividends in the not-so-distant future.

"I really believe with the bioscience infrastructure (being put in north of Prairie Holdings Group's property along U.S. 59) ... I think we're going to snag some businesses in the next one to two years," he predicted. "It's going to come once people see what's being done here."

Editor's note: This is the third in a four-part series on the bioscience conference and the bioscience industry. Next week: Bioscience for beginners.

Ryan McGaughey arrived in Worthington in April 2001 as sports editor of The Daily Globe, and first joined Forum Communications Co. upon his hiring as a sports reporter at The Dickinson (North Dakota) Press in November 1998. McGaughey became news editor in Worthington in November 2002 and editor in August 2006.
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