JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – It was the bottom of the ninth with two outs, and then came the grand slam homerun. Alcon, the international eye-care products manufacturer owned by Swiss-based Novartis, had already merged its headquarters with Ciba Vision and relocated the new national headquarters to Texas. Then Novartis was rumored to be shutting down its Johns Creek campus of 850,000 square feet entirely and the leaving the city.
Since then much has happened. Now, according to a Novartis filing on the Securities and Exchange Commission, its subsidiary Alcon will invest $250 million in the Ciba Vision campus in Johns Creek to expand operations to produce a breakthrough contact lens product.
Eventually, 300 jobs, many of them top research and development jobs, will be coming to the city.
Why the turnaround? When ominous noises started coming out about Novartis leaving, that’s when Georgia’s economic development engine got cranking.
Johns Creek authorities, the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce and North Fulton Progress Partners teamed up with the Governor’s Office and the Georgia Department of Economic Development to show Novartis why the campus should remain open, a knowledgeable source said.
Last summer, Gov. Nathan Deal was in Switzerland to negotiate with Novartis officials. For instance, Alcon concerns about adequate water for production were satisfied. Georgia officials were able to convince Novartis that it would be cheaper to produce its innovative contact lenses in Georgia than overseas.
Alcon plans a 70,000-square-foot addition to the existing plant, which is scheduled to start in September. The project will take three to five years.
Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker said he was more than pleased when the news came about the expansion.
“We’re still waiting for the official announcement,” Bodker said. “But we will welcome all of their new employees and their expanded facility when it arrives.”
Asked about his assessment of the job so many had in the successful negotiation, Bodker said it shows what can be accomplished when everyone works as a team.
“While certainly the state played a very, very important role, it took others to finally make it happen,” Bodker said. “The combined efforts proved that it was worth it.”
As in any deal of this size, there were many complexities that had to be dealt with.
“Businesses today have to be very careful with their investments. And they are doing their due diligence to make sure things are done in the right place, in the right way,” he said. “The competition was heavy, and the jobs and this expansion could easily have gone into a different location.
“We’re excited that it is happening here and staying here,” Bodker said. “But you have to remember that as much as this was about the expansion, it was also the retention of the existing jobs that were here.”
Alcon already has 1,500 employees in Johns Creek involved in contact lens research and development and manufacturing.
Alcon had considered sites in Texas, Asia and Europe, one source said.