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December 28, 2012

2012 in Review: Nantworks’ arrival top business story of the year

Second of five parts

TERRE HAUTE — The biggest single business story of 2012 happened when the year was just a few days old, and did not immediately produce a single new job in the Wabash Valley nor any immediate new investment.

In early January, Nantworks, a California-based high-tech pharmaceutical company, announced it planned to invest $120 million in the ill-fated, former Pfizer Exubera facility over the next several years.

The company also said it plans to hire up to 234 people by 2016.

Since that announcement, work has quietly been taking place. The company has been seeking engineers and started interior renovation work, said Steve Witt, executive director of the Terre Haute Economic Development Corp., which helped bring Nantworks to Vigo County.

To solidify the Nantworks deal, the Vigo County Redevelopment Commission sold the former Pfizer property, 211 acres appraised for $6.5 million, to Nantworks for $1. In return, the company, which plans to make critical care and cancer treatment products at the site, promised to invest $120 million over five years. If Nantworks does nothing, it will repay the Redevelopment Commission $1.2 million.

If all goes well, the average salary at the Vigo County facility — likely to be called NantPharma — will be $51,000, including some jobs paying six figures. The business hopes to have a total annual payroll of $12 million by 2016.

• As 2012 drew to a close, plans solidified for the city to sell a little-used urban park to a real estate investment company specializing in skilled nursing facilities with a modern twist.

Mainstreet, a Cicero-based investment group, plans to spend about $10-million to construct a 70-bed, 53,000-square-foot skilled nursing facility on the 5.7-acre site of Memorial Park, a city-owned park southwest of Union Hospital. The facility, aimed at the tastes of aging baby boomers, represents a new take on senior-living facilities, emphasizing hotel-like settings and promoting activities outside of a patient’s room.

Hints something was coming to the Memorial Park site emerged over the summer when the Terre Haute Board of Public Works and Safety voted to declare the 1907-park “surplus” property, allowing it to be sold. Mainstreet will pay the city about $1 million for the land. The city has granted the company a 10-year real property tax abatement and has vacated a block of Fourth Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues for the project.

• The next big business story of 2012 has some people worried about the future of a well-established manufacturing company in Terre Haute.

In June, Bemis, the plastics packaging maker, confirmed it was eliminating several administrative jobs at its Fruitridge Avenue facility, the company’s largest single manufacturing plant. In all, about a dozen administrative employees relocated to Wisconsin from Terre Haute, a company spokeswoman said.

The move was not expected to affect the company’s large, unionized workforce in Terre Haute, the company said at the time.

Earlier in 2012, Bemis announced a $10.6-million investment in new equipment at the Terre Haute plant saying it also expected to add about 40 workers. By the end of 2012, Bemis reported having nearly 900 employees in Terre Haute, including more than 600 hourly workers, about 150 salaried employees and 40 employees of its Bemis Performance Packaging division.

• Also early in 2012, Dorsett Auto, owner of Dorsett Mitsubishi, announced it was purchasing Terre Haute Hyundai-Nissan from Romain Automotive Group of Evansville.

Brian Dorsett, a retired professional baseball player and owner of Dorsett Mitsubishi, said he planned to move his Mitsubishi vehicles to the former Terre Haute Hyundai-Nissan site and sell Nissans at the (former) Mitsubishi location.

Romain Automotive Group said it was retaining its Terre Haute Chevrolet dealership.

• Finally, in the midst of the unrelenting heat of the 2012 drought, Frontier Communications brought a little cheer by unveiling its Internet “hot spot” in Terre Haute — free, limited wireless Internet service covering much of the downtown. In a celebration kick-off at Clabber Girl in mid-July, Marc Evans, regional manager for Frontier, said the free service would accommodate up to 100 users at a time in a 0.21-square mile area from approximately Poplar Street in the south to Union Hospital in the north and from about Third Street in the west to 10th Street in the east.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.

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