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A tour of the former Mylan plant, and the vision of the WVU Innovation Corp. for its future

MORGANTOWN – The empty, quiet labyrinth of what was the Mylan plant is a reminder of the homegrown business that packed up and moved a year ago, putting 1,500 people out of work.

But those halls are still lit, and gleaming. And an occasional klink or clunk off in the distance, a person briefly appearing from one of the countless rooms off the endless halls is a sign of what is to come as the building’s new owner, the WVU Innovation Corp., unfolds its vision.

Lab space lit in yellow-gold.

“What our goal would be is to have a parking problem,” said Innovation Corp. president Stacey Armstrong. “It’ll take us some time to get there, but that’s our goal.”

Armstrong, Assistant Vice President Erica Steratore and Protective Services Manager Rob Snare guided The Dominion Post and members of WVU’s and WVU Medicine’s media relations teams on a tour of Chestnut Ridge Road facility.

Snare worked for Mylan/Viatris for 12 years, then spent some time in the banking industry before coming on with the Innovation Corp. So he knows his way through the labyrinth and has guided relative newcomers Armstrong, who was hired in May, and Steratore, who joined in June, on tours.

They still haven’t seen the whole place, Lewis said.

A warehouse

Steratore is a Ripley native who worked at WVU for a time and came back to Morgantown from UPMC. Lewis worked in the health field in Ohio and also at UPMC before coming here.

We don’t see even a handful of people on the tour. There are 12 people in Facilities, six in Protective Services. “It’s a small team but a good team,” Armstrong said. They partner with WVU and WVU Medicine for resources. “As we’re grossly successful and fill this all up and all the jobs we create, we’ll have a big team.”

The plant was built out in sections over the years, with different sections have different numbers of levels and different purposes.

We weave down long halls with countless rooms and labs glowing yellow-gold under their subudued light off to the sides, more labs stretching dozens of yards, a vast storage room with racks reaching 62 feet high, rooms large and small with pill bottle conveyors and 20-foot-high blenders and other equipment Viatris left behind.

Maps are posted on the walls at various spots, which can help someone find their way out if they’re alone. But it could take hours.

The office building – the newest part of the plant with the dark, mirrored glass tower – is fully furnished. The Innovation Corp. announced last week that Hope Gas is that building’s first tenant, and will occupy 35,000 of its 55,000 square feet.

The office building has collaboration spaces, small cafeterias, outdoor seating, a telepresence room with a bank of big-screen TVs Mylan and Viatris used for remote conversations. Long walls of picture windows offer views across 705 to Ruby and Children’s. “You can really feel this as an extension of the campus,” Armstrong said.

The entire facility is 1.2 million square feet. It has 120,000 square feet of office space (55,000 in the office building, more scattered around the plant side), 76,000 square feet of lab space, 100,000 square feet of warehouse and 300,000 square feet of manufacturing space.

Their challenge, Armstrong and Steratore said, is how to divide it up for potential clients. The Innovation Corporation’s vision is catalyze economic growth and improve health across science, medicine and technology, they said.

“We can have an area that is about energy and we can have an area that’s about health and we can have an area that’s about education,” Lewis said.

They often do what they were doing before last week’s tour: pore over floor plans to see how the place is laid out, where the natural breaks are, if the areas have infrastructure that can support potential tenants ideas for those areas.

Discussions are conducted under non-disclosure agreements, they said, so they couldn’t be specific about anything. But they’ve talked to interested parties who felt they could take up big parts of the plant. But that posed questions for monopolization of elevators, loading docks and such.

The telepresence room

So they’re looking more at using smaller increments for multiple tenants. Because Mylan expanded in sections, “it allows us to see sections that could stand alone or work together,” Armstrong said.

“Just to do the security is a project in itself,” Armstrong said. It won’t be just securing the perimeter, but securing between sections for the various tenants, and the common spaces the Innovation Corp. will manage.

Snare pointed out that all the security hardware – including a couple hundred CCTC cameras – is still in place. It’s just a matter of turning it back on and segregating the tenants. “It’s a little bit of extra work but it shouldn’t be too hard.”

Armstrong envisions some of the space being devoted to workforce development – to educational space that bridges the gap between high school and four-year degrees. “What’s that development piece that we could do in the middle?”

They are looking for and talking with companies that have a vision for change and forward movement in the fields of energy and health she said, perhaps in partnering with the university. They could be in-state companies, or out-of-state firms looking to move here.

“We want people outside of the state to realize how great it is in West Virginia,” Lewis said. “It’s a broad net.”

Back in 2018, the plant employed 3,500 people. Layoffs before the creation of Viatris had the number down to 1,500 when Viatris announced the closure at the end of 2020.

We asked what their vision is for building back the workforce. It will take time, Armstrong said. How much time, they can’t say exactly. Long term, they want the same level of activity as before it closed.

“It will be different,” she said, with different types of businesses occupying the different spaces. “I want the community to feel good that we’re keeping the facility open, that we’re going to have good utility for it, but it is going to be different than what it was before.”

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