By Tom Still
MADISON, Wis. – If there’s a tangible sign of confidence in the opening of Exact Sciences Discovery Campus on Madison’s West Side, it’s the fact that a nearby parking ramp with spaces for 970 employees at any one time is also ready to go.
With 2,300 employees today and immediate openings for 300 more, Exact Sciences cut the ribbon June 26 on a 169,000-square-foot clinical laboratory and warehouse space just south of Madison’s West Beltline. The lab will process samples from people who use the company’s Cologuard screening kit for colorectal cancer, which kills about 50,000 people a year – mostly in cases where the disease was not detected early enough.
The leadership team at Exact Sciences is so confident of the demand for more and better DNA analysis screening that it estimates test totals will climb from 1 million last year to 7 million per year in short order. Handling that many tests and affiliated work will require up to 1,500 employees at various times on Exact’s Discovery Campus, which explains the parking ramp as well as an amenities center with food service to be completed by 2020.
It is just the latest example of how the Dane County economy, which includes a strong dose of well-compensated scientific and technology jobs, is helping to propel Wisconsin forward.
That concept is often a tough sell in parts of Wisconsin, where economic growth can still be elusive even years after the end of the Great Recession that peaked about 10 years ago. There are those who envy progress in Dane County and some other hotspots in Wisconsin, wondering what’s in it for them.
One answer to that question is state tax revenue from companies and their employees. Related jobs in construction and service industries is another. Opportunities for young people to stay in Wisconsin versus going elsewhere is yet another reason to celebrate.
The story has been much the same – if not more pronounced – with at least two other Dane County technology giants.
Epic Systems continues to grow in Verona, where it is home to nearly 10,000 employees who work on electronic health records and other health information technologies used across the United States and around the world.
Some 200 million people have a current electronic health record administered by Epic, which has about $3 billion in annual revenues and a physical campus valued at roughly $1 billion on 1,000 acres. Its buildings range from the 11,000-seat Deep Space Auditorium to offices themed around wizards, jungles, dragons and toys. All this from a company that began with two workers in a small office space at 2020 University Avenue.
While Epic may not grow at the same physical pace in the future, it is adding an international reach that wasn’t a part of the company’s business model in earlier years. That could lead to more jobs.
A similar Dane County example is Promega Corp., which has always been a successful biotechnology “tool kit” company and which has recently embarked on a renewed building boom.
Promega makes about 4,000 products used by scientists worldwide in the fields of genomics, cellular analysis, drug discovery and human identification. It has been a fixture in Fitchburg, just south of Madison, for decades. In recent years, the demand for its products has grown sharply – and so has its need for state-of-the-art facilities.
Promega broke ground in early June on a 150,000-square-foot manufacturing center. The $155-million project will be built on Sub-Zero Parkway, near Lacy Road and South Seminole Highway in Fitchburg. Already under construction with a 2020 completion date is Promega’s $190-million research and development center on its core campus, the largest building project in company history.
With just those three examples, that’s about 15,000 highly paid workers today and the prospect of more. Personal and corporate income taxes and state sales taxes raised in Dane County don’t just accrue to the “home” county; they go into the general fund to help pay for state government priorities in 71 other counties.
Some would even seek to punish anything “Dane,” even it hurts them in the long run. A better approach is to embrace economic progress anywhere in Wisconsin in the hopes it will uplift parts of the state that could use the help.
Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.