After blossoming in Davis for almost two decades, Bayer CropScience — formerly AgraQuest Inc. — will leave town next year for West Sacramento where it can consolidate and expand its efforts in vegetable seed and biological crop protection.
Founded in Davis in 1995 to develop environmentally friendly pest control products, AgraQuest was bought last year by the German-based international corporation, Bayer AG, for approximately $425 million.
Company officials say they looked at several locations in the region to transplant the operation, including in Davis, but ultimately picked a business park just off of Interstate 80 in West Sacramento as the best fit for the growing company.
The site features existing office and lab space — left there by Affymetrix, a DNA microarray manufacturer that moved to Singapore in 2009 — which was key for Bayer as it hopes for the facility to be fully functional by the spring.
The expansion also will include a new pilot plant and greenhouse to pair with Bayer’s research efforts.
“We are focused on better leveraging our full research and development capabilities by both consolidating and expanding our global R&D organization,” said Dr. David Nicholson, Bayer CropScience’s head of research and development, in a news release. “Our new facilities in West Sacramento will enable us to deliver integrated crop solutions more rapidly by intensifying the research links between our vegetable seeds and biologics experts and thus strengthening our innovative power.”
In all, the company — which is split into several smaller buildings in Davis spread over about 61,000 square feet of facility space, will expand to 164,000 square feet on 10 acres of land in West Sacramento.
There, the company hopes to increase its workforce by 160 jobs, a substantial jump up from the 140 employees in Davis.
“The new location offers top-notch equipment and allows for a stimulating exchange across disciplines,” said Johan Peleman, head of vegetable seeds R&D, in the release. “At the same time, we can further strengthen our bonds with UC Davis, one of the world’s top plant science institutes.”
While Bayer officials wouldn’t identify specific areas in Davis, it’s reasonable to assume it considered sites along Second Street, where the city recently has attracted businesses like Mori Seiki, a Japanese tool manufacturer, and Expression Systems, a cell culture service company.
But for Bayer, without a built facility and adequate overall space, Davis just didn’t have enough to offer.
“We saw the need for much more lab space, more office space, more meeting room space,” said Ashish Malik, head of marketing for biologics. “These are the world headquarters for research of biologics so we really need room to expand.
“We looked at three or four options, including in and around Davis (and) when we did the analysis on the opportunities for how to move quickly into bigger space … and when you look at those areas, the place in West Sacramento was most attractive. It was very much about space.”
Losing a prominent ag-tech business because of its size is perhaps another reminder for local business and political leaders of the physical constraints Davis poses for companies that want to grow beyond mid-size operation.
Earlier this year, City Manager Steve Pinkerton hired Rob White to oversee the city’s efforts in economic development and, essentially, to help Davis develop into a bigger player in the medical and agricultural-tech industries.
Naturally, on that front for White, losing an asset like Bayer was a step in the wrong direction.
“Nobody likes to see a business go someplace else,” White said. “(And) as long as we don’t provide or create opportunities for move-up space — there are several companies right now, and I hope Bayer is the last, but there maybe other companies in the future months (who are) not finding suitable facility opportunities for increasing their footprint.”
While White wants to cater to the values held by the community as a whole, he says that if the city wants to take that next step as a leader in the medical and ag-tech industries, it needs to commit to that decision soon.
“If the community and the City Council would like to keep companies like Bayer, we must look at the issue of not having the appropriate size facility, both land and building, for these companies to make the investment they’re hoping for,” White said.
— Staff writer Jeff Hudson contributed to this report. Reach Tom Sakash at email@example.com or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash