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Columbia To Lose Novavax Headquarters

By Michael S. Rosenwald
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 7, 2004; Page E01

Enticed by nearly $1 million in incentives, biotech company Novavax Inc. said yesterday it is moving its corporate headquarters from Columbia to the Philadelphia area.

The company, which said it employed 175 people as of July 31, did not specify how many jobs it will move out of Maryland, and company officials did not respond to requests for comment.

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In a statement announcing the move, Novavax said the new Pennsylvania facility will "over time allow us to bring research, development, and additional manufacturing under one roof." But it also said 20 scientists working in its vaccine business will remain at a facility in Rockville.

Novavax, whose lead product is a hormone-replacement lotion for women, said it wanted to consolidate its business in Malvern, Pa., near its principal manufacturing facility.

"The Philadelphia region is home to many companies in the biotech and pharmaceutical industry and offers a professional, well-educated workforce that will allow us to recruit top scientific, manufacturing, and commercial talent with pharmaceutical industry experience," Nelson M. Sims, the company's president and chief executive, said in a written statement.

Pennsylvania economic development officials said they sweetened the pot, offering what they described as an "aggressive" incentive package including a $400,000 opportunity grant, a machinery and equipment loan of up to $500,000, and $37,500 in custom job training.

"I think they are on the cusp of expansion and success and I want to capture that," said Kim McFadden, regional director for the Governor's Action Team, an economic development organization in Pennsylvania. "They are a bright group of individuals and they are poised for success."

One Howard County official said that is what made the loss for the county a tough one.

"This is a competitive business and we don't like losing," said Richard W. Story, chief executive of the Howard County Economic Development Authority. "The fact is we are very used to winning, and losing any company is bad," and losing a headquarters like Novavax is especially bad, he said.

Story said financial incentives were discussed with a Novavax consultant, but he deferred questions about the discussions to the state's Department of Business and Economic Development. Officials there could not be reached for comment.

However, Story said, "as we look back on it now this was pretty much a done deal as to where the CEO wanted to consolidate."

Story said he did not think the company's move would start a trend of other companies leaving for regions competing with Maryland for biotech firms.

"But we are always cautious," he said. "Retention is job number one in economic development. This will make us more vigilant and more connected to our existing business base to make sure there isn't a problem we can solve going unnoticed."

Novavax lost $17.3 million (58 cents a share) last year on $11.8 million in revenue. Shares of Novavax closed yesterday down 42 cents, at $3.86.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company