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KCEDA aim is for area to be pharmaceutical base

Pharma Pac third Kemper County business for entrepreneurs

DEKALB – This county seat of Kemper County continues to ride the wave of medical and pharmaceutical development. That`s while many other counties with similar characteristics contend with what they say are insurmountable obstacles. The laggards point to their low education level, lack of a skilled work force and loss of manufacturing jobs to NAFTA.

Kemper County has those same characteristics and can sympathize, but not for long. They’re too busy trying to make sure that their latest industry is fully staffed and happy. The new firm, Pharma Pac, is in its eighth month of operation and revenues already exceed the company`s projections for the third year, according to chief financial officer Joe Donovan. And they expect this year`s sales figures to exceed their five-year projection. And the best news for Kemper countians is that Pharma Pac expects to double their number of employees from their current 50 to 100 by the second quarter.

“Pharma Pac is the latest success in our `start Small, Think Big, Quality Always, Planaction,'” said Mike McGrevey, executive director of the Kemper County Economic Development Authority (KCEDA). “Our unemployment rate is only 6.7% now – we’ve been in double digits for years.”

Pharma Pac is part of the continuing Kemper County expansion by companies owned by Glenn Crawford, Neil Sirkin and Joe Donovan. Their first local venture was Emergystat, owned by Donovan and Crawford, in 1998 when they contracted to handle the county`s emergency medical service. At that time, Emergystat served areas in Alabama and Mississippi – today it`s in six other states.

Then they formed ProDerma in DeKalb in 2002. The operation packages generic beauty aids and lotions for major national retailers – CVS Pharmacies and Long Drugs are among ProDerma`s main customers. The firm employs 38 people and is bursting at the seams. It will soon be forced to convert its warehouse space to manufacturing.

The material in its current warehouse space will be moved to a nearby 65,000-square-foot building that was used to make wire harnesses for autos. That business went south to Mexico about five years ago. The building is owned by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. It`s now been leased to Pro Derma and Pharma Pac.

It could be said that Pharma Pac is a child of Pro Derma. According to Donovan, some of Pro Derma`s major customers needed a source of solid dose pharmaceutical packaging. “They asked us if we could repackage large quantities of solid doses into individual packages,” Donovan said. “The Kemper County Economic Development Authority owned a 22,000-square-foot building in their industrial park that had previously been used for a cut-and-sew operation. The building was right behind our Pro Derma facility, so we worked out a lease for it and went into business.”

There are two different lines to Pharma Pac. “The first line is composed of taking as many as 20 different types of solid dose products and turning them into individual packets. Aspirin and iron tablets are typical examples,” Donovan said. “The second line is for manufacturing and re-packaging semi-solid medicated creams into individual bottles and containers. An example of that product would be a form of anti-acne treatment.”

The semi-solid product line requires Pharma Pac to test both raw materials and finished products to meet U.S. pharmaceutical standards, so a new lab will be established. In addition, a partnership has been developed with the chemistry department of Mississippi State University. “They have been most cooperative and it`s been a great relationship that`s continuing to grow,” Donovan said.

Donovan was also most complimentary of McGrevey and the KCEDA. “He was critical to our success. We had a problem and they gave us the opportunity to be successful,” Donovan said. “We have gotten tremendous support from the state, Kemper County and the City of DeKalb and all of the federal agencies. Mike coordinated all of that and without it we wouldn`t be in business today. And Bill Richardson and his East Central Planning & Development District were essential, too.”

The incentives for Pharma Pac to locate in DeKalb included low interest loans and grants for equipment and working capital. In addition, the Mississippi Development Authority provided funding for roads and bridges that linked the buildings in the KCEDA Industrial Park.

McGrevey acknowledges that all of that was a chore, “But it`s great when people come in that already have contracts,” he pointed out. “So many people come in with only an idea and expect incentives.”

Tom Otto is Pharma Pac`s plant manager – he`s a chemist that came over from the ProDerma operation and is originally from North Dakota. He came to DeKalb via the Mississippi Gulf Coast where he worked with Sirkin. Otto is one of the five top executives that are part of the ProDerma/Pharma Pac operations that Donovan says make more than $50,000 annually.

That gets back to McGrevey`s “Planaction.”

“Those executives prove the mobility of that kind of work force,” McGrevey said. “We’re attracting them with competitive salaries. It wouldn`t surprise me if Pharma Pac has 500 employees by 2010. It`s all part of our strategy to use Kemper County as a pharmaceutical home base and to expand regionally.”

That vision suits Donovan and his fellow owners just fine. Not only do their expansion plans for ProDerma and Pharma Pac fit in perfectly with that projection, Crawford and Donovan are already in the process of expanding their durable medical equipment business, Twin States, from Alabama into Kemper County and the surrounding area.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Bill Johnson Jr. at lanjohnson@aol.com.

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