Vivione Biosciences LLC, a Little Rock-based manufacturer of a new high performance diagnostic system targeting health and food safety issues, has moved to laboratory space at the Pine Bluff Arsenal.
The announcement was made Tuesday and local officials hope the move will be the start of a biotechnology trend in Jefferson County.
The Jefferson County Economic Development Corp. has the provided the firm the first incentives from the three-eighths cent sales tax for economic development approved by voters in 2011. The company will receive $73,000 to locate in unoccupied laboratory space at the Army base.
George Makris, chairman of the county economic development corporation, said Vivione offers the high paying jobs that economic development officials hope to attract to the Bioplex, the nearby National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR) at Jefferson and the arsenal for technology-based jobs.
Makris described the firm as an “anchor project” that can help draw other high technology businesses to Jefferson County.
Earlier this year the Pine Bluff businessman said the jobs created by the Vivione would be highly skilled, paying an average of more than $31 per hour, adding he is hopeful the number of employees will grow to 300 by 2016 as the workforce expands to meet anticipated demand for its products.
Kevin Kuykendall, Vivione’s chief executive officer, said the two labs have opened with six employees and he hopes to see that number grow to 10 by the end of the year.
He told a standing-room-only crowd at the announcement ceremony that development will focus on the company’s RAPID-B diagnostic system, which can detect E. coli and salmonella in six hours, compared to several days in a conventional lab.
The system can identify the presence of tuberculosis in 30 minutes, compared to five weeks for more conventional methods, Kuykendall added.
Kuykendall said the company collaborated with NCTR, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences at Little Rock and the U of A’s Center for Food Safety at Fayetteville to develop the technology.
He said the flow cytometer “looks for bacteria” and has many applications in areas of water and food safety, noting the system was developed to be portable and rugged to work in a number of environments.
The integrated hardware, software and wetware can test for bacteria, viruses and toxins utilizing its technology platform, Kuykendall told The Commercial, replacing outdated culture-based, immunology-based and molecular-based methods that can take several days.
The firm’s technology, pairing flow cytometry and reagents, has single cell detection capability in just minutes, the CEO said.
Col. Franz J. Amann, arsenal commander, was smiling when he approached the podium during the ceremony.
“The bottom line is the arsenal is not going away,” he emphasized, noting the collaboration will continue on the Army base.
Lou Ann Nisbett, executive director of the Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson County, said her office has been working with Vivione since March 2011.
She has talked with a number of potential candidates for the Bioplex to bring high-tech jobs to the county, especially with the reduction in force implemented at the arsenal.
The company looked at the 87,600 square foot Charles River Laboratory at Redfield, which was closed in 2009, Kuykendall said, adding its design did not fit company’s growth plans.
While the equipment manufacturing is currently outsourced, the CEO said Vivione may begin building its own product.
The arsena, the Army’s only Arkansas base, has completed the destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile and has had talks with private industry in an effort to complement its missions, including chemical and biological testing. The Arsenal Support Program Initiative authorized military arsenals to promote the “commercial use of underutilized capacity at arsenal facilities.”
Brian Umberson, Vivione’s director of business development, estimated construction at the Bioplex would allow the company to build its product test kits.
Kuykendall, who said he has worked in a number of states, said he was impressed by how Arkansas agencies and organizations worked together on putting the deal together.