CREVE COEUR — Biotech firm Benson Hill, which touts itself as one of the fastest-growing food tech companies in the country, on Monday formally opened its new headquarters here — marking the occasion with an event that included a visit from U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.
The company combines biotechnology and data science to boost the nutritional attributes and sustainability of key crops and ingredients in the food industry. Much of its work has focused on improving staples such as soybeans, but the company has also landed contracts with food giants like Mars, helping the chocolate producer hone the genetic resilience of its cacao trees, which face growing risks from climate change and disease.
The St. Louis area claims the highest concentration of plant science doctorates in the world. Benson Hill said its new facility bolsters the region’s position “at the forefront of the future of food.”
“It’s fascinating to see the combination of talent that you’ve put together here,” said Perdue, speaking after a tour of the Benson Hill facility. “It’s a fascinating effort here, and I wish you all the best.”
The $52 million, 160,000-square-foot headquarters off North Warson Road will host an ensemble of experts in plant biology, agronomy, data analytics, machine learning, and food science. The building is housed within the 39 North plant science district, near other engines for agricultural research, such as the neighboring Danforth Plant Science Center.
Danforth Center researcher Todd Mockler co-founded Benson Hill in 2012 with Matt Crisp, the company’s president and CEO. Benson Hill employs 190, and the new headquarters has capacity for 300. The company is working to fill a dozen positions now, said Crisp.
Essential employees began working in the building a couple months ago, with others phased in since then — a gradual approach taken amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Only a fraction of employees — 20% to 25% — are working inside the building now, but the new facility comes with features well-suited to the pandemic: “easy-to-sanitize furnishings,” an air filtration system capable of eliminating airborne viruses, and fresh air circulation in lab spaces.
Executives lauded the building’s opening on Monday, but noted that the work is more important inside, where experts will serve as a “bridge” between food producers and consumers.
“It’s the convergence of these that creates real meaning,” said Crisp. “This is really about the people. The people are the reason we’re able to do this.”
Mockler expressed excitement how resulting work could improve the lives of others through a better food system.
“That’s just a milestone,” he said of the building’s completion. “It’s not the final destination.”
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