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With Roche gone, N.J. sets sights on 'next target'

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Christopher J. Paladino, president of New Brunswick Development Corp., said the Roche loss has a silver lining.
Christopher J. Paladino, president of New Brunswick Development Corp., said the Roche loss has a silver lining.

Roche may have turned down New Brunswick as the site for its new research center, but the team of state and business leaders that tried to court the drugmaker already is setting its sights on luring other firms to the city.

The Swiss pharmaceutical company confirmed today that it had picked New York City to locate its new early development research hub. The firm said it narrowly chose a life sciences complex in Manhattan over a site in New Brunswick for the facility, which would have softened the blow of its move to close its 83-year-old Nutley campus next year.

For the team that tried to sell Roche on New Brunswick — which included Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and new Rutgers University President Dr. Robert Barchi — the loss has a silver lining, said Christopher J. Paladino, president of New Brunswick Development Corp. He said the firm's interest validated the Hub City as a viable candidate for the research that Roche plans to do, and quickly prompted the team to look for its "next target."

"Six months ago or a year ago, I don't think we would have been in play," Paladino said. He pointed to the recent introduction of Barchi, who has an accomplished clinical background, and the recently authorized merger of Rutgers and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, factors that were echoed by Roche today. "I really believe that if Roche had come, it was the tipping point, that we would have been talking to five, six or seven different users over the next six months."

The team pitched a site adjacent to Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, said Paladino, whose firm was designated redeveloper of the parcel. He is "convinced that Roche always intended to go to New York City," he said, but believes the state made a case strong enough to garner serious consideration and delay Roche's decision by several weeks.

Paladino noted that Roche at one point upped its employee requirement, from about 220 to 330, and asked if New Brunswick could accommodate the change. That convinced him that "it began as an exercise, but once they got engaged with the lieutenant governor and the president … we really gave them pause, and they had to think about it," he said.

Roche ultimately chose a site known as the Alexandria Center for Life Science on Manhattan's Lower East Side, citing the presence of other research operations and nine existing collaborations in the New York area. The firm also was awarded $6.6 million in tax credits by New York State in return for its $13 million investment, according to a news release from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office.

A spokeswoman for Choose New Jersey, the state's nonprofit recruitment arm, and Guadagno's office said incentives were discussed with Roche. But she declined to provide details "as a matter of policy" because the firm never filed an application with the state's Economic Development Authority.

The entreaties by the Christie administration caused Roche to keep 50 management-level positions at a yet-to-be-decided location in North Jersey. Spokeswoman Darien Wilson said they will serve functions like law and human resources, supporting what will be known as its translational research center in New York.

Al Koeppe, chairman of the EDA's board, said that one lesson of the Roche negotiations is that New Jersey "really could raise that level of collaboration and joint response" between higher education and its economic development leaders. The state already is taking steps, he said, pointing to rising collaboration between higher education secretary Rochelle Hendricks and Guadagno.

"Those connections are important, and I also think that Barchi … is going to be a very formidable presence in the state on issues like this," Koeppe said. "And I hope, but I also see signs of good leadership from him in this area, recognizing that Rutgers can be really instrumental in making the state very attractive for economic development."

Roche announced in June it would shutter its longtime Nutley and Clifton campus, shedding 1,000 jobs by the end of next year as part of a global restructuring. Wilson, the company spokeswoman, said about half of those employees will be gone by the end of 2012.

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