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Md. out of running for Novartis plant


Maryland is no longer in the running for a flu vaccine manufacturing plant that would have added hundreds of new jobs, many of them entry level, a state representative confirmed yesterday.

Though no official word has yet come from the plant's developer, Switzerland's Novartis AG, the state's secretary of business and economic develop- ment conceded that Maryland couldn't offer the incentives that other states could.

"It's too expensive," said Aris Melissaratos, who accompanied Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and his running mate, Kristen Cox, on a visit to Gaithersburg's Digene Corp. yesterday.

Over the past few years, the state has ramped up efforts to attract biotechnology manufacturing plants, believing it to be a specialty in which Maryland can excel.

Officials are ripping up roads in Frederick to accommodate MedImmune Inc. and its new drug manufacturing plant.

Maryland also gave incentives to Human Genome Sciences Inc. to build its $235 million manufacturing plant in Rockville. The plant, which opened last summer, has since been sold and leased back.

And in October, Mayor Martin O'Malley announced plans to look at the feasibility of bringing a vaccine manufacturing plant to the city.

"Baltimore and Maryland are better positioned, I would argue, than any other state in the union to be able to become the center of vaccine production," O'Malley said then.

In an interview yesterday, Ehrlich said biotech manufacturing was of "great interest" to him, and something he wanted to take to the next level.

"I'm trying to get to as much manufacturing as possible," the governor said.

But the free land Novartis wanted was a deal-breaker for the state, Melissaratos said.

Competitors were offering five times what Maryland laid on the table, the economic development chief explained, and if the state had ponied up that kind of cash, it would have made for bad relations with those who received lesser incentives.

"I still have to work with MedImmune and Human Genome Sciences," Melissaratos said.

A spokeswoman for Novartis said this week that she couldn't offer any details about the plant's location, other than to say that the company hopes to make an announcement soon.

Thus far, Novartis has only confirmed North Carolina as a candidate, but the Baltimore Business Journal reported last month that Maryland was also a finalist for the plant, which would cost about $500 million to build and create about 750 jobs.

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