Discovery Park celebrates its fifth birthday this month as a multi-business campus, a journey that has seen this iconic site grow from five companies in July 2012 to the 150+ businesses located there today, employing some 3,000 people.
BBC Radio Kent marked the occasion by interviewing Discovery Park Chief Executive, Toby Hunter about the kind of business activity that now takes place on site as well as plans to secure future success.
We’ve included some excerpts from the interview below. Presenter John Warnett asked the questions.
How many people are employed at Discovery Park now?
There is a little over 3,000 people employed there.
When Pfizer [scaled back] they were employing around 2,600 people. At its height they employed around 6,000 people. Is there room to expand?
Very much so and we are spending something like £6m in the next few months on creating new science space with a programme of another £20m behind that.
What sort of companies have moved into the park?
A real range. I mean, we have got a substantial science presence in various science sectors but mainly immunotherapy and diagnostics and therapeutics. We’ve also got a considerable amount of just amazing local businesses that have taken residence, creating a village campus there.
Of course, the jobs at Pfizer were pretty high-tech jobs, probably fairly high salaries as well. Can we say that the jobs that we’ve created there now are similar?
They will be across the range. There are a lot of administration jobs that have been created as well as some high skilled, high tech jobs within the non-science sector, but we’re creating science jobs all the time.
We’ve got take up of something like 50,000 sq ft that [science companies are] just desperate to get in and get going. We’re building that space out for them at the moment.
There are still an awful amount of highly skilled people in the Sandwich area. That is one of its attractions to a lot of science companies looking to move to Sandwich. There is that brain capacity and experience.
The worry is that all Discovery Park has done is move jobs from other parts of Kent to the park. Can you reassure people these are jobs coming in from outside the area?
We had a Chinese delegation the other day; we had a Korean delegation a couple of months before that.
We’re talking to German companies all the time about relocation to us so ‘Yes’ it’s a very vibrant [and has] a very international feel.
Now you’re currently undergoing a multi-million investment revamp on the site spending quite a lot of money on the park, What are you actually doing?
Pre-dominantly all this money now is going on science space so creating new labs and a new GMP facility.
It was very much a science based place with Pfizer. How much science is being done there at the moment, as a percentage. What percentage would you say is science based?
I would say 66% is science based.
A lot of really really fascinating science as well, I mean some pretty weird stuff but all amazing.
Tell me about the weird stuff
When I first joined, I suppose in February you go around and look at it and guys making hair products out of algae and cancer treatments out of snake venom.
At its height Pfizer employed 6,000 people there. Do you foresee in the future the park could employ that number of people?
We’ve got capacity of something like a couple of hundred thousand sq ft of available space on top of the 50,000 we’re already taking so there’s certainly the capacity to do that.
We’ve got to keep the big companies like Mylan and Pfizer, who are still there and very much have an active and positive presence on site and we also need to attract one or two big new players. But we see it as very possible.
When you’re talking to people about relocating to Discovery Park how do you sell East Kent? What are the selling points of it?
The restaurants, the beautiful countryside and [being] beside the sea, it sells itself. Honestly, we’ve got a fantastic science space.
One of the things that Pfizer did which is so so strong was that they made the probability of discovering drugs really strong there and that’s a big, big thing.
The rest of why would I be in Sandwich is about living there. If you’ve ever been to been to East Kent or live there, it’s a cracking place.