UPPER PROVIDENCE — “We’re going to knock your proverbial socks off.”
That was the promise Dow Chemical Co. CEO and President Andrew Liveris made to Gov. Tom Corbett on July 31 during the company’s grand opening of its Northeast Technology Center.
“You ain’t seen nothing yet,” Liveris told the governor. “This idea factory that’s here in this room is going to knock your proverbial socks off. You’ll come back, and you’ll see that productivity.”
When the full transition is complete, the 800,000-square-foot facility will support 800 Dow Chemical employees who currently work at the company’s Spring House location 15 miles away. There is room for as many as 1,300 employees at the new research and development facility, leaving open the possibility the company may expand. Dow Chemical is leasing the Arcola Road campus from Pfizer, and signed a 52-year lease for the vacant facility with the pharmaceutical firm.
“We are setting down roots. We intend to grow and this is the cornerstone of those roots. It’s been a long vision this company has had,” Liveris said.
The governor joked with the audience, asking those who lived outside of the commonwealth to raise their hands. When they did, Corbett encouraged them to move to Pennsylvania. He acknowledged that Dow, which has its corporate headquarters in Michigan and facilities around the world, could have chosen anywhere to locate the new research and development facility.
“Today, Dow is making clear that it is committed to Pennsylvania, as a place of business, as a center of research and development, and as a home of innovation,” Corbett said.
Nilesh Shah, site leader for the new location and Dow’s global research and development director, said in an interview with The Mercury, that the company knew that if it moved too far, Dow could lose some of its talented scientists, many of whom he said are leaders in the industry. He said the area — and the facility — made the move the right decision.
“We could have moved, but overnight we would have lost all the talent that drives the specialty businesses that are represented here — overnight. And it’s in their heads. It’s not something that is transportable to another person,” Shah said. “They are known to our customers. That takes decades to build. It made sense for us to be here.”
Dow announced last June that it would be moving its facility to Upper Providence, and has spent the last year making adjustments to the building to accommodate chemical, rather than pharmaceutical laboratory work.
During Wednesday’s event, more than 700 employees joined company officials, contractors and community representatives for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. A gallery walk gave visitors an opportunity to see several different laboratories and examples of some of Dow’s products.
The Northeast Technology Center near Route 422 will house Dow Chemical’s global research and development hub of modern lab and office facilities. The location will house 150 labs, with employees working in a wide-range of markets, according to Shah; including paints, building and construction, water and electronics material.
“This site has the ability to innovate all of those. For us it’s a constant stream of new products and innovations,” Shah added. “We will do everything from designing new materials; figure out how materials can be used so we can demonstrate to a customer how the material is valuable to them. And then we have the ability to scale up and the ability to give samples to customers.”
State Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-19th Dist., said that having Dow come into Upper Providence is exciting.
“There’s no question that this research facility will be of great economic value to the community,” he said. “Our region continues to be world class in terms of innovation and the economy of today and into the future.”
Lisa A. Mossie, vice chairwoman of the Upper Providence Board of Supervisors, said everyone in the community benefits when a company like Dow comes into the area.
“Because the people come here, they work here, they use our shops, they use our facilities. We’re very pleased to see this happening,” Mossie said.
For now, about 200 employees are calling the new facility home. It will be late 2014 before all 800 employees are together under one roof. Shah said the Spring House building was in need of renovations, and will be sold.
Liveris, a native of Australia who has served as CEO of Dow Chemical since 2004, said the Northeast Technology Center is an example of Dow’s commitment to innovation and collaboration.
Corbett spoke to the role Dow can play in helping to educate new scientists.
“I hope that you will partner with us, as we try to find ways to partner with local school districts to help teach young children and interest them in what you do here,” Corbett said. “We need another generation of scientists.”
Midland, Mich.-based Dow Chemical purchased Philadelphia-based Rohm & Haas in 2009 for more than $15 billion as part of an ongoing expansion strategy from its basic plastics industry into the more profitable specialty chemicals business. Specialty materials are used in products including personal care and home products, consumer electronics and pharmaceuticals. In the Philadelphia region, Dow has facilities in Philadelphia, Bristol, Newark, Del. and Pennsauken, N.J.
Follow Mercury Business Editor Donna Rovins on Twitter @MercBiz