Merck’s Established Legacy in Virginia
For over 75 years, Merck & Co., Inc. has been manufacturing lifesaving drugs and vaccines at its Elkton facility in the Shenandoah Valley. As a publicly held global healthcare leader, the company is dedicated to improving health and wellbeing around the world. Through research, innovation, and a mission to save and improve lives, Merck delivers advanced health solutions with its prescription medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies, and animal health products.
Merck has completed seven expansions in Rockingham County in the last 25 years, demonstrating the company’s confidence in Virginia’s business climate. This growth has resulted in over $1.6 billion in capital investments and more than 250 new jobs. Merck now employs over 1,000 Virginians at its 1.1 million-square-foot facility in Elkton.
A Rising Need for Vaccine Production
In 2018, the company approached VEDP to discuss another potential expansion opportunity in Virginia. To meet increased demand for its Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines, Merck’s growth plan included converting some of its tablet manufacturing facilities over to vaccine production and adding a production line at one of its East Coast facilities. The Commonwealth faced competition from other states, and had several challenges to address in order to meet the company’s needs: infrastructure and power upgrades, and a dependable, skilled workforce pipeline that could support the company’s future growth.
Virginia was in the running, but winning would require innovative solutions and an extremely competitive proposal.
The Virginia Solution
A Customized Product
In an effort to ensure that the Elkton facility stood out from other East Coast competitors, state and local officials began conversations with Merck early in its decision-making process. When the company was clear that the availability of a dedicated and skilled workforce would be a determining factor for this next major expansion, the Virginia team immediately began collaborating on a custom solution to address Merck’s short- and long-term workforce needs.
We are proud of the employees and colleagues at Merck who are inventing for life to deliver our innovative medicines and vaccines to the world. We also are grateful to our neighbors in the community and Commonwealth. Our strong partnerships with local and state elected officials, educational institutions, and organizations throughout the Elkton community help us sustain our commitment to the area’s economic growth.
Sanat Chattopadhyay Executive Vice President and President, Merck Manufacturing Division
As a result, nearby Blue Ridge Community College (BRCC) and James Madison University (JMU) worked with the state, locality, and company to develop a unique program dedicated to building a pipeline of workers to address the initial and ongoing need for talent with specialized skillsets. This included the creation of a Regional Manufacturing Liaison position to work with Merck, BRCC, and JMU to understand and address the company’s specific workforce needs and curriculum change requests and ensure all the workforce initiatives stay on schedule. Other resources included the development of a boot camp-style training program for new hires to learn proper manufacturing practices and processes; assistance with equipment maintenance at BRCC’s new Bioscience Building to simulate Merck’s production floor; the establishment of a Biotechnology Director position at JMU to ensure continued curriculum enhancements; a new adult degree and professional development training focused on problem solving, communication, leadership, and STEM disciplines; and the development of an agreement between BRCC and JMU to ensure a seamless transition from BRCC to JMU for individuals interested in biotech careers.
Virginia also offered Merck a performance grant for storm water and infrastructure upgrades to support the expansion of the facility, as well as substantial power infrastructure upgrades supported by Dominion Energy.
This innovative, custom incentive package demonstrates the Commonwealth’s willingness to develop solutions to accommodate a company’s specific needs. The unique partnership with BRCC and JMU ensures a pipeline of biotechnology engineering and computer science talent to benefit Merck and accommodate its future growth, as well as a lasting regional impact for other major area employers in varying industries.
Shenandoah Valley’s Largest Capital Investment to Date
With the project criteria met and Merck’s confidence in the quality of Virginia’s talent pipeline solidified, the company announced plans in 2019 to invest up to $1 billion in stages to expand its manufacturing operation in Rockingham County, adding 120,000 square feet to increase production of its HPV vaccines. This investment represents the largest capital investment in the region in recent history.
Securing Merck’s medicine manufacturing operation more than 75 years ago continues to bring far-reaching benefits to the company, Rockingham County, the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, and the world.