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German seed company KWS opening St. Louis research center

German seed company KWS opening St. Louis research center

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One of the world’s largest seed companies, KWS SAAT AG, is setting up a new research operation at the Danforth Plant Science Center.

The German company will begin operations later this year and plans to have 75 researchers and support staff on the site within five years, executives and officials said Monday during a ceremony at Danforth.

It will be the company’s first research operation outside of Germany, where it was founded in 1856. It was a desire to get closer to other research centers that drove the decision to start a new operation in the U.S., said Leon Broers, a member of the firm’s executive board, who also leads KWS research efforts.

“Technology is becoming more and more important in plant breeding and is developing every year, faster and faster,” Broers said.

In the end, St. Louis found itself in competition with the usual stalwarts of the research realm: Boston, North Carolina and San Francisco.

That the firm, which recently topped $1.4 billion in annual sales, chose the St. Louis area could be significant for efforts to develop a stronger bioscience research presence here, said Sam Fiorello, Danforth’s chief operating officer.

“It’s third-party, smart money validation,” Fiorello said. “I think this will lead to folks giving us a second and third look.”

KWS will receive just under $2 million in state and local incentives if it meets various employment and investment targets. Most of that, $1.8 million, would come from the Missouri Works and Missouri Works Training programs. The St. Louis County Port Authority also is contributing a $100,000 relocation grant.

Gov. Jay Nixon, who attended Monday’s ceremony, touted the new research center as fitting with the state’s bioscience goals.

“This is the place where you can get some long-term sustained growth in the economy,” Nixon said.

KWS, which sells seeds in 70 nations, is both a competitor and occasional partner of Monsanto in seed research. The firm also licenses some genetic traits, particularly in corn seeds, from Monsanto.

But the fact that Monsanto sits across the street from the Danforth Center meant nothing in KWS’ search for a new research site, Broers said.

“No matter where you go, you’ll always find competitors,” he said.

Monday’s announcement also marks the final stage of Danforth’s BRDG Park complex, which will be filled to capacity once KWS completes its $13 million investment in its new research center.

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Timothy Barker is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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