January 25, 2014

Nephron eager to start making medicine at plant near Cayce

Facility near Cayce will be occupied in early spring, and manufacturing should begin soon after

Nephron Pharmaceuticals officials are eager to start producing medicine soon after moving into their new facility near Cayce in early spring.

The drug maker is “super-prepared” to begin once federal officials give the nod after a series of quality tests, company president Lou Kennedy said during a plant tour Friday.

Its new home will be a center for making eyedrop medications, anti-cancer drugs and vaccines as well as the generic respiratory medicine for which the Orlando, Fla.-based company is known.

Nephron may become much more.

Some Lexington County leaders hope it develops into a magnet attracting more manufacturers of medicine and health products to the Midlands.

“We hope some spin-off comes our way,” County Councilman Bill Banning of West Columbia said.

Kennedy already is looking at another venture – but she won’t say more it -- about on a 10-acre site across from the new plant that some call “her baby.”

Company officials are ready to move into the 408,000-square-foot facility, due to be finished March 31 as the first piece of a $313 million campus.

“It’s starting to be very real to us,” said Kennedy, who has been hands-on in designing the facility and overseeing the two years it’s taken to build.

The facility is located on a 60-acre site a few blocks south of the new Amazon distribution center in an industrial area county officials created near I-26 and I-77.

Nephron is planning a million-square-foot campus to rise during the next decade, eventually employing more than the 700 that Kennedy first envisioned. The campus will be more than triple the size of the headquarters of the privately-owned firm.

Production at the highly-automated plant will start with a staff of approximately 100. In time, its staff will exceed the number of workers at company headquarters.

Windows abound at the facility, partly for morale and partly for more practical reasons.

“Bringing in lots of sunlight is important so people are happy to work here,” Kennedy said.

Interior windows also permit company officials to check activity without stopping work, she said.

Those windows will allow tours for schoolchildren that Kennedy – daughter of a teacher – wants to encourage.

Kennedy and advisers designed a structure that she says is highly energy-efficient.

The company cafeteria will feature healthy food, with nothing fried. It adjoins a rooftop patio planted with succulents that insulate the area underneath.

Plans call for the facility to help Nephron – along with its plants in Orlando – to produce up to 1.8 billion vials of medicine yearly for global sales.

Nephron, like other major manufacturers, received state and local incentives such as property tax breaks to settle in the Midlands.

But the project also is a homecoming for Kennedy, who grew up in Lexington County and graduated from the University of South Carolina.

She has maintained her ties to the area, donating to USC and working with the university to develop new products while also contributing to the campaign of Gov. Nikki Haley.

The plant also will be a financial boon for nearby Cayce.

Nephron uses copious amounts of water even while recycling much of it, Kennedy said.

Initial estimates are that the facility will use 82,000 gallons daily, the equivalent of the amount used by 205 homes, city officials say.

Eventually, that total could rise to 219,000 gallons daily, the equivalent of nearly 550 homes.

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