Land deals advance Solano County’s biomanufacturing hub plans
Developers have closed three large land deals, and another has obtained city of Vacaville approval for an office and commercial biomanufacturing plant, just 21 months after the city and Solano Community College jointly announced formation of the California Biomanufacturing Center Inc., a nonprofit corporation tasked with promoting expansion of biomanufacturing in Vacaville.
In the agreement forming the center, the city designated two locations with a combined area of about 300 acres for future biomanufacturing development: a large tract of vacant land south of Genentech’s campus in the Vaca Valley Business Park, and a portion of the planned Lower Lagoon Valley mixed use development southeast of I-80.
At the October 27, 2020, press conference announcing the biomanufacturing center’s launch, Vacaville Mayor Ron Rowlett described its primary objectives.
“We’ve done our research, and our goal is simple: Make Vacaville and the Bay Area the epicenter for biomanufacturing in the United States,” Rowlett said. “Our plans have the potential to expand biomanufacturing in this city to lead to more than $2 billion worth of development, 3.5 million square feet of commercial real estate development, and the addition of 13,000 jobs, which equates to $1 billion of payroll per year.”
Toward that end, the Vacaville City Council adopted a Biotechnology Fast Track Program to provide site selection assistance, a commitment to an expedited entitlement review timeline of 90-100 days from application submittal to land use approval, building permit review by the City’s Chief Building Official, and dedicated post-approval and inspection support.
Mayor Rowlett described the Fast Track Program as one more example of the city’s decades-long commitment to the biotechnology industry. “Vacaville has the land, infrastructure, and workforce that the biotechnology industry needs to grow, as well as a long-standing commitment to make doing so a streamlined and efficient process. With the California Biomanufacturing Center, we are building on our proven success with the industry to secure Vacaville’s continued leadership as a biomanufacturing center going forward.”
Vacaville as a biotech hub
In 1987, Alza Pharmaceuticals, with its U.S. headquarters in Mountain View, started the biotechnology migration to Vacaville by opening its first U.S. manufacturing plant next to Interstate 80.
Prior to Alza’s arrival, Vacaville was known primarily as an agricultural processing and trade center — drying, packing and shipping fruit and nuts grown on Sacramento Valley farms. Vacaville’s strategic location, midway between San Francisco and Sacramento at the interchange of interstates 80 and 505, and a short distance from Travis Air Force Base, contributed to its rapid population growth as a bedroom community in the decades following World War II.
Interstate 505 is the largely rural freeway shortcut for Interstate 5 traffic between the Bay Area and points north. Travelers not heading toward Sacramento or Reno turn north from Interstate 80 toward Winters and Redding at the Nut Tree Plaza, a well-known landmark and tourist stop, and rejoin Interstate 5 near Dunnigan.
In 1994, Genentech Inc., with headquarters in South San Francisco, purchased a 100-acre site in Vacaville along Interstate 505 north of its interchange with Interstate 80. Construction there began in 1994, and Genentech obtained FDA approval to commission and open that biotechnology plant in 1999.
By 2000, when Genentech secured FDA licensure for manufacture and distribution of its anti-cancer drug Herceptin, its Vacaville facilities became “the world's largest biotechnology manufacturing plant for large-scale therapeutic protein production,” Pharmaceutical Online reported April 27, 2000.
At that time, Genentech employed 400 full-time employees spread among seven buildings, with a total floor area of 310,000 square feet at its Vacaville biomanufacturing facilities.
Genentech’s website reports that its Vacaville campus remains “one of the world's largest biotechnology manufacturing plants for the large-scale production of pharmaceutical proteins from mammalian cells.”
Since 2000, it has expanded to 427,000 square feet in ten buildings. Employment at the Vacaville campus had also increased from 400 employees in 2000 to 1,200 by 2017, as reported by the Fairfield Daily Republic’s job survey.
Genentech’s presence led several smaller enterprises, such as Novici Biotech, Polaris Pharmaceuticals Inc., and RxD Nova Pharmaceuticals to open their own biotechnology facilities along the Interstate 505 corridor.