WEST JORDAN — After sitting vacant for nearly three years, the former bustling home of a global microchip manufacturer will once again become the site of high-tech innovation.
Emerging biotechnology firm PolarityTE announced Thursday its intention to purchase the 60-acre site that was formerly the Utah headquarters for Fairchild Semiconductor for approximately $21 million. Launched earlier this year, PolarityTE's proprietary platform allows the company's products to regenerate a patient’s tissues using their own cells.
The company will renovate much of the existing 300,000-square-foot building on the property at 3333 W. 9000 South to suit its various needs, including research and development, laboratory testing and corporate administration, explained President and CEO Denver Lough.
The company had been on the lookout for a large space to expand its operations for the past several months, he said, when he got a call from the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative about an available property.
"They said there was this place, 'Let's go look at it,'" he described. Lough and his colleagues were a bit skeptical when they pulled up to the empty parking lot on which the decades-old vacant building was situated.
"We pulled up to it and said, 'Wow, this place might need some work,'" he said. "But then we walked in and it has everything we need and is even organized and set up the way that we need it."
Because microchip manufacturing requires many of the same safety and cleanliness standards as biotech research and manufacturing, the facility already had all the amenities PolarityTE would have built on its own, he said. Having the building structurally designed to accommodate all of the company's needs was a major advantage and selling point, he noted.
Right away, Lough's team began considering the myriad possibilities the enormous space could offer toward the long-range plans of the burgeoning startup. With USTAR's help, the company made inquiries with local contacts to work out an agreement to acquire the property.
Additionally, Lough said they located the company responsible for the initial construction of the facility under Fairchild Semiconductor, Daw Technologies, and signed it on to help renovate the space to PolarityTE's specifications. The purchase is expected to close in the next 30 days, he said.
"It will be exactly ideal for us," Lough said. "Semiconductor manufacturing is a lot cleaner of a process than even (operating rooms) are."
He said the facility is scheduled to be renovated in three phases, with the first two expected to be done within three or four months. The entire facility could be up and running by the end of next year, he said. There is even a 40-acre plot in the rear of the property where the company plans to construct another building in a few years. All totaled, the company plans to spend about $70 million to build out the entire property, he said.
While Lough is optimistic about the future possibilities for his company now that it has a place to conduct its groundbreaking research and product development in the field of biotechnology, the state is also excited about being able to repurpose a formerly productive site and potentially replacing the economic vitality that was lost when the Fairchild plant closed in 2014.
"It's really fortuitous for the state that we're replacing what were fairly high-paying technical jobs in engineering," said USTAR Executive Director Ivy Estabrooke. "The people (PolarityTE) is going to hire will be similarly high-skilled in high-paying jobs. And what Polarity is doing is transformative."
Estabrooke noted that PolarityTE's "cutting-edge" work in biotech is likely to attract lots of talented people to the Beehive State to work in the industry or study at some of the local colleges, which bodes well for the state's potential long-term economic prosperity.
"That kind of ecosystem is where our universities will produce more biotech talent in order to feed (companies) in that ecosystem," she said. "Having such a big, transformative player (in Utah) will attract others to the state."
Lough said PolarityTE currently has fewer than 60 full-time employees, but the company is expecting to add personnel at an accelerated rate over the next three to five years — with a target of about 1,000 workers.
Though Utah's biotech industry is relatively modest right now, the potential for growth is enormous, he said. It's that potential that gives him great optimism for the present and the future, he said.
"This state is set up right now to have a 'high-tech, dry-tech' corridor, and they are trying to do a lot to drive biotech to the state," Lough said. "By Polarity being here and having its global headquarters here, we can actually help the state develop (it's) biotech corridor. People are beginning to recognize that this has been a hidden gem for a while."