Smart Growth Leadership Award: Merck & Co., Inc.
Smart Growth Awards Category: Smart Growth Leadership Award
Winner:Merck & Co., Inc.; supporting partners: The City of Linden and the City of Rahway
To Merck & Co., Inc. for 100 years of community investment and redevelopment.
Merck & Co., Inc. is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its research and manufacturing facility in the cities of Rahway and Linden, where it has grown considerably with the support of its civic partners.
In the summer of 1903, a small manufacturing operation began on 150 acres of land 20 miles southwest of New York City in Rahway, New Jersey. George Merck, the company’s founder, started out with a modest operation, with fewer than 20 employees working out of just two buildings with only two working telephones. One hundred years later, Merck’s Rahway/Linden facility celebrates its centennial year as the company’s longest-running research and manufacturing site and remains an integral part of Merck’s history.
In 1926, the company made the decision to move its corporate headquarters from New York to Rahway, where it would begin to focus on pharmaceutical research in addition to chemical manufacturing. To succeed in this new endeavor, George W. Merck, the founder’s son, set out to bring academia’s best and brightest talent to Merck’s new research wing. To attract them, the company decided on a green, university-like setting. In 1933, the first research building was constructed — Building 50 — which, over the next few decades, would produce medical breakthroughs including the discovery of vitamin B12, the first synthesis of cortisone and the development of streptomycin.
Through the century, the Rahway/Linden site was at the center of Merck operations. But by the 1980s, Merck had begun to outgrow the Rahway/Linden site. In 1992, Merck moved its corporate headquarters to Whitehouse Station, equidistant from its West Point, Pennsylvania, facility and the Rahway/Linden site. This change enabled the site to focus its operations on critical research and flexible manufacturing functions to get the next phase of new drugs to market as quickly as possible. Working closely together, Merck and the communities of Rahway and Linden actively planned for the conversion. For example, to facilitate the growth of the site as one of Merck’s key research centers, the city of Rahway in the mid-1990s re-zoned the Merck property specifically for research and development, the first zoning designation of its kind in the state. This designation granted pre-approval for research uses, making future expansion more efficient and effective.
Today, Merck’s Rahway/Linden facility has expanded far beyond the original factory to include multiple factories, cutting-edge laboratories and pilot plants. In the past ten years, a record number of major medical breakthroughs such as CRIXIVAN for AIDS/HIV, SINGULAR for asthma, VIOXX for pain, and CANCIDAS to fight fungal infections, have been launched from the Rahway/Linden facility, which has grown to include 150 buildings and nearly 4,700 employees. This year the company expects to complete construction of the 17 new buildings identified as part of the $1 billion expansion project begun just a few years ago.
As the company has thrived, so have its partner communities. Rahway’s commitment to smarter growth through redevelopment and revitalization is not limited to its Research and Development Zone. Buoyed by the promise of a new train station from NJ TRANSIT, the city embarked on an extensive redevelopment program intended to make Rahway a better place to live, work and play. The $16 million train station was completed in 1999 and was followed by the creation of the Rahway Redevelopment Agency. In 2002, the city was accepted into the state’s Transit Village program, which partners Rahway with several state agencies to help implement its redevelopment goals at and around the Rahway train station. One goal is to better connect the rest of the city to the train station, including the Merck facility. Such transit-friendly development is a hallmark of smart growth.
Rahway’s redevelopment efforts have already proven a success. As of last year, the Redevelopment Agency had signed off on $50 million in development projects around the central business district. The old Rahway Theater has been renovated and is now home to the Union County Arts Center. The city is converting surface parking lots into parking structures to maximize tax ratables and create a more walkable, attractive environment. Market-rate housing soon will be constructed downtown, within three blocks of the train station. This development will include 100 residential market rate units with more than 10,000 square feet of retail space on the first floor.
Linden, too, has focused on smarter growth through redevelopment and downtown revitalization efforts. There community is considering several other redevelopment sites. Just south of the train station on Wood Avenue, the city is working with a developer to redesign an apartment building that will include shopping on the first floor. A study of the area between the train station and the firehouse is underway, as is a redevelopment project on St. George Avenue. There is also an active Special Improvement District that has completed fa×ade renovations along Wood Avenue.
The rebirth of both cities would not be possible without committed neighbors such as Merck. The company-community ties are further strengthened by Merck’s supply and service contracts with businesses in the Rahway/Linden area and Union County, which total more than $70 million annually.
In addition to its business activities, Merck is a good neighbor. Local contributions to the Rahway and Linden communities reached more than $540,000 in 2002. Through its annual employee-giving campaign, another $700,000 was raised for local not-for-profit health and human service organizations. Merck has built strong relationships with the Rahway and Linden school systems via the Merck Institute for Science Education, or MISE, and the company actively participates in more than 30 community groups including the Chamber of Commerce, the Union County Economic Development Corporation and the Transportation Development District task force. Merck employees in Rahway are involved in a number of organizations to which they contribute time, money and goodwill.
The success of Merck & Co., Inc. at the Rahway/Linden site, as well as the related redevelopment success of Linden and Rahway, is a testament to the strong relationship between the company and its neighbors…and to the power of partnerships in achieving smart growth through redevelopment.
Images courtesy of Merck & Co., Inc.