The search for the best biotech talent
What milestones have you seen in the first five months of construction of the Biogen plant?
Markus A Ziegler: Two dates were extremely important for us. On 23 February, we had a small celebration on the site to celebrate 750,000 hours of construction work completed. In the past 12 months, the average number of people working on site has been around 350. This year, we'll have up to 1,000 people on site at a time. Only by doing so can we meet our ambitious schedule.
On 13 April, the first bioreactor from the US arrived at our new manufacturing facility. The 18.5t production reactor went by sea from Baltimore to Europe and then by road, as an oversize load, to Switzerland. As soon as it arrived, special cranes were used to place it in the manufacturing building.
It's been just over a year since the groundbreaking ceremony took place. How can you build at such incredible speed?
One key factor has been our detailed, highly professional construction planning. Cooperation with the authorities at federal level, and particularly at cantonal level, is also crucial. There's very little red tape when it comes to making decisions. For example, when we submitted our plan for the gas and water supply infrastructure to the cantonal authorities, they were able to process our application so professionally and efficiently that we received the go-ahead a very short time later.
What are the biggest challenges currently facing the construction project?
Delivering this billion-Swiss-franc project involves dealing with repeated challenges. But we're on track, thanks to thorough planning and intensive project management efforts. At the moment, we're particularly focused on putting together the team that will run the production facility from 2019. We'll be creating up to 400 new jobs, and want to attract the best talent in Switzerland to fill them. Biogen's success hinges on having the right people with the necessary skills.
Will you be able to find such people in the Solothurn area?
Recruiting 400 highly qualified people is a challenge anywhere in the world, but we're currently on course. Solothurn's geographic location speaks for itself. It's close to Zurich, Basel and Bern - three major centres with universities of applied sciences. This gives us access to a large potential specialist workforce. To run the plant, we need well-trained people who are used to working precisely and reliably. With its history of precision engineering, the Solothurn region is well placed to meet our workforce need. But, of course, it's important for us to also have access to specialists from all over the world. We have the big advantage of being a very attractive employer, ranking high in surveys of the best places to work.
What do you value most about Switzerland as a location for your business?
The economic framework is good: levels of education and training in Switzerland are excellent, people are hardworking and dedicated, and there's a high degree of legal certainty and a commitment to quality at all levels. These location advantages have also prompted Biogen to build its new production facility in Switzerland. Added to this is the culture of respect and trust that you find among people in Switzerland, and the fantastic balance between innovation and pride in their origins.