Genentech’s Barry Starkman presents a T-shirt to Gov. Ted Kulongoski. Starkman oversees 250
Since purchasing 75 acres of land in Hillsboro in 2006, the San Francisco-based pharmaceutical giant Genentech has invested $400 million in Oregon and created 250 jobs at its new fill/finish and distribution facility. Plant manager Barry Starkman spoke with Oregon Business after a ribbon-cutting ceremony in early April.
Where are you from?
Originally, I’m from New Jersey. Spent most of my life there. Went to college in Pennsylvania, worked for a while there, then spent 24 years with Merck, working overseas in Belgium. I joined Genentech about five years ago.
You were involved with Genentech’s move to Oregon from the beginning?
I started working on this in the summer of 2005, about six months after I joined Genentech. For a while I was based out of San Francisco. We moved to Oregon in July of 2007.
Describe your experience expanding into Oregon.
It’s been an amazing experience. Oregon set itself apart from the other places we looked at. People were genuine about wanting us to be here. It wasn’t just a façade. It was real. They were looking to diversify the portfolio of businesses here and they were ready to take it all the way.
Did that change after you bought the property?
Not at all. Once we made the decision to come here, it didn’t stop. It was about everything they could do to bring this to reality. A friend of mine with another pharmaceutical company has been trying to do a similar project, and the last time I talked to him he still hadn’t gotten the money from the state. The promises still weren’t fulfilled. Here, every single promise was fulfilled.
Your experience seems to contradict the criticism the state has gotten lately for being anti-business.
I have not experienced that. I don’t know whether it’s something special in Hillsboro as opposed to different places, but I can tell you that my experience in Hillsboro has been extremely positive. Any time we ran into an issue during construction they were right there doing what they could.
What about the tax increases that just passed? How do they affect you?
From my vantage point of running this facility, it’s had no impact at all. There’s nothing that has or will change the course that we’re on. We are on track, and this facility is a key strategic component.
Are you happy with the job Hoffman Construction did?
We didn’t know anything about Hoffman. But they presented themselves extremely well. They had the contacts here, they had good relationships with the building trades council, and they delivered a beautiful building to us. It was different for us to do a design-build project, which we hadn’t done before. That was a little risky on our end, but the rewards have paid off. And we maintain a great relationship with them.
What about the 300 employees you’ll have when fully operational?
About half of our employees are transplants from California. The rest have been hired locally, or through national searches for specialized engineers. We also developed a program (with state funding) at Portland Community College and provided scholarships for the first two cohorts of students to go through it. They went for free, and out of those 40-plus students I think we hired 27.
Are these biotech jobs?
We’re proud to say we are part of the biotech process. It’s a vertically integrated process from end to end, and we’re the final step before the medicine goes to the patient.
Genentech is a perennial pick for Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For. What puts the company on that list year after year?
There are a lot of things about Genentech that contribute to the culture. It’s the T-shirt and jeans culture we have, the great benefits we offer and the great salaries we pay people. It’s the bonuses and stock options all levels of employees get, whether you are sweeping the floor as a maintenance worker or the CEO... But the most important thing, and what attracted me here, is the energy around patients. A woman I know is a breast cancer patient, and she’s using Avastin [a tumor-starving cancer medication developed by Genentech] as part of the clinical trial. She was here the day we packaged Avastin for the first time. She spoke to our entire employee population about her experiences. That gives you a sense of purpose. It’s easy to get up to come to work here in the morning.