Albany Molecular Research Inc. is an unknown to most people in Buffalo, but that’s no matter as long as one New Yorker – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo – is more than familiar with the drug research and development firm.
Sources inside and outside government say the Tuesday announcement that AMRI will expand its Albany operations to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus – and create 250 new jobs – is the result of Cuomo personally connecting two emerging high-tech campuses at opposite ends of the Thruway.
“The real story and the big opportunity is this connection point for which the governor has a vision,” said Matthew K. Enstice, president of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. “He brought this to our attention, sat down and talked about it, and had lots of conversations to help accommodate it.”
The result is a $50 million state investment in new biomedical research equipment and facilities that the governor says will spark development in the same way that state-sponsored nano-electronic research and development did for the Capital District. It also ranks as the first tangible investment of the “Buffalo Billion” that Cuomo unveiled last year for economic development in Western New York – details of which were unveiled Tuesday.
The development of a drug and research center on the Medical Campus is also expected to leverage $200 million in new private investment.
While AMRI President Thomas E. D’Ambra lauded Cuomo for his involvement and “commitment” in “establishing Western New York as a centerpiece of cutting-edge drug discoveries,” Enstice and others say the new jobs stem from Cuomo’s ability to see all the state’s new high-tech enterprises eventually working together.
The idea revolves around providing research and development infrastructure, just like the state did for the massive Albany nanotech complex, he said.
“By building the infrastructure, you get the companies to come in,” Enstice said, adding he is already fielding inquiries about the Medical Campus as a result of Tuesday’s announcement.
“Within 10 minutes, I got another company – a big company – saying they are interested,” he said.
An administration official who asked not to be identified confirmed that the deal stemmed from Cuomo’s “hands-on” involvement.
“Did he negotiate the deal? No,” the staffer said. “Was he involved? Yes.”
AMRI officials did not return a phone call Tuesday from The Buffalo News to discuss the company’s local plans. But AMRI Vice President Louis Garguilo told the Albany Times-Union that there was no competition between Albany and Buffalo for the new facility and that AMRI was approached by the Governor’s Office and by the University at Albany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering to participate.
He also told the Times-Union that the new center “strengthens the corporation and can only be good” for its operations in Albany.
AMRI employs 1,300 people, 700 of them upstate, and has invested $200 million in Albany and Syracuse over the years, according to the governor’s office. Its website says it specializes in drug discovery and services that lead new compounds through the development process, as well as manufacturing of syringes and vial fillings.
The company reported an 11 percent gain in total revenue for the third quarter to $55.8 million, the Times-Union reported.
Buffalo-area business leaders say that the state’s new development process already seems to be working and that AMRI is just the kind of company that will only contribute to the success of the Medical Campus.
”This is entirely consistent with the idea the region has long held that the area we should be investing in is life science,” said Andrew J. Rudnick, president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, who attended Cuomo’s announcement. “AMRI is absolutely the type of company of which we speak.”
Enstice, meanwhile, said plans call for state investment to fund research facilities that companies like AMRI need to conduct their operations. That’s the concept behind Albany’s nanotechnology campus as well as the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
It is expected the new facility will carve out space in the Beecher Innovation Center in a former Trico Products office building that houses an incubator for emerging companies.
“It’s the incubator that allows this to happen,” Enstice said. “It’s not easy for a company to pick up and move, so this is a big win for us.”
He said the development marks a crucial milestone for the Medical Campus because it means the facility has earned the “critical mass” needed to become a major research and development center for the life sciences.
“They liked what they saw going on here and saw the opportunities from Day One when we brought them here,” he said.