Australian animal health firm’s decision to relocate headquarters here ‘a great win for Lawrence’

Healthier dairy cows soon may mean big business for Lawrence.

An Australian-based animal health company is moving its global headquarters to Lawrence as it works to break into the U.S. market with a product that reduces antibiotic use in dairy herds.

Integrated Animal Health on Monday announced plans to locate its headquarters in the Bioscience and Technology Business Center on Kansas University’s West Campus. The company plans to employ two to five people in the near term but said average salaries of the firm’s business professionals are expected to top $100,000 per year. The company expects to grow in future years to about 50 employees and a $4 million annual payroll.

“As U.S. sales start coming in, we see employee growth really accelerating,” Blake Hawley, president and CEO of North and South American operations for IAH, said at a press conference hosted by the Lawrence chamber of commerce and other economic development partners.

Integrated Animal Health is the third animal health company since late 2011 to reach a deal to locate in the BTBC, which is right across the street from KU’s highly ranked pharmacy school. In late 2011 Argenta signed a deal for laboratory space in the center. In August, New Zealand-based Simcro announced it had chosen the center for its North American headquarters.

Hawley said the growing number of animal health companies between Manhattan and Columbia, Mo., plus the presence of KU’s pharmacy and business schools, led the company to choose Lawrence for its headquarters. Hawley said he thinks the Lawrence area eventually will have a concentration of animal health companies much like California’s Silicon Valley has with computer firms.

“We see the Kaw Valley becoming the Farmacon Valley of the U.S.,” said Hawley, who has his MBA from KU.

Company officials said research coming out of KU’s pharmacy school will be a strong magnet for animal health companies. A growing trend is for companies to figure out ways to use research on human-based drugs and determine how those breakthroughs also can be used in animal-based pharmaceuticals.

“We’re finding that a lot of scientists have the ideas on how to do that, but they don’t have the time or the expertise to bring those type of products to market,” said Rob Neely, CEO and founder of the company.

A major part of the company’s U.S. operations will involve working with established researchers to bring new products to market. The company currently has 13 projects in the development stage. It already has several products in the market, although none yet in the U.S.

The company’s leading product is an application that decreases antibiotic use in some dairy cows by about 50 percent. The company also has products that use natural methods to repel flies from cattle, and ticks and fleas from dogs and cats. Another product relieves shin pain in thoroughbred race horses.

Hawley said that as the company expands in Lawrence, it likely will be looking for a host of business professionals in the fields of marketing, business development, sales and “medical liaisons” who will educate veterinarians and ranchers about the benefits of the company’s products.

Lawrence economic development leaders said the company’s announcement was good evidence that the community’s efforts to attract high-quality, technical jobs are starting to pay off.

“We have some of the best minds in the country right here in our backyard,” said Douglas County Commissioner Mike Gaughan. “We have a top research institution in our backyard. We have so much going for us.”

The company does plan to seek a financial incentives package as part of its plan to relocate to Lawrence from Australia. Brady Pollington, economic development project manager for The Chamber, said details of the proposed incentive package would be released at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting. Commissioners are being asked to refer the incentives request to the Public Incentives Review Commission, which will make a recommendation on the request.

Pollington said the package would cap the value of the incentives at $250,000 and would be based on the amount of jobs and investments the company creates in Lawrence. The company is seeking the incentives to help it with relocation and startup costs in Lawrence.

“The project is a great win for Lawrence,” Pollington said. “It is really going to shine a light on Lawrence in the animal health world.”