The growth Wilmington-headquartered PPD Inc. has experienced in the Port City is an economic driver for the region, local economic development leaders say.
On top of the global contract research organization’s large tax base in New Hanover County and its 1,800 local employees, it can also lay claim to having a big role in spawning the region’s clinical research organization (CRO) cluster.
“Without PPD’s visionary leadership and long-term commitment to the Wilmington area, we might not have seen such a substantial CRO industry cluster develop here and in North Carolina,” said Randall Johnson, executive director of the Southeastern Office of the N.C. Biotechnology Center.
“We’re fortunate these companies and people thrive in our community, and we expect this industry to remain strong and continue growing in our region for decades to come,” he said.
In April, Massachusetts-based Thermo Fisher Scientific announced that it would purchase PPD for $17.4 billion. With the deal pending regulatory approvals, company officials have not released details about plans in Wilmington.
Johnson said that while the potential impacts of the acquisition on the region remain unclear, if the deal is completed, there may be some change in PPD’s local operation and workforce in the short term. It could also have the potential to grow activity and employment in the long term, he said.
PPD’s acquisition continues a consolidation trend that is being seen in the industry, with deals such as LabCorp’s acquisition of Covance in 2015 and, this year, ICON’s pending $12 billion purchase of PRA Health Sciences, Johnson said.
“From my understanding, Thermo Fisher and PPD do not intend the acquisition to gain significant efficiencies through merging workforces; instead, the companies appear to be focused on accelerating growth by offering more comprehensive services, creating more streamlined communications and linkages between components of the clinical trial process, and expanding existing and potential customer connections for greater business opportunities,” Johnson said. “The company will continue to need our local clinical research professionals to reach those laudable goals.”
Wilmington Business Development, an economic development organization focusing on Wilmington and New Hanover and Pender counties, keeps up with PPD, as it does with many of the area’s corporate entities, said Scott Satterfield, CEO of WBD.
About the recent deal, Satterfield said, “We’re in close touch with [PPD], and look forward to adding value to PPD and Thermo Fisher as they unite and craft strategies to meet what we anticipate will be some very ambitious business objectives.”
Satterfield attributes the success of PPD in Wilmington to boosting the region’s overall reputation as “fertile entrepreneurial grounds,” setting the stage for companies like nCino, Live Oak Bank and CastleBranch, he said.
“PPD also lent credibility to our status as a headquarters contender, helping pave the way for GE Nuclear’s [headquarters] arrival here in the early 2000s,” he added.
WBD officials remain hopeful PPD will retain its influential position as a flagship company in the region, Satterfield said, adding that Thermo Fisher, with operations across North Carolina, has done much for those communities it has invested in.
“It definitely has its eye on North Carolina’s life sciences industry in a major way, and that’s all based on talent and workforce,” Satterfield said. “North Carolina’s life sciences economy is one of the great economic development success stories of the last 35 years, and PPD fueled Greater Wilmington’s participation in that emergence.”