Port keeps IsoRay from relocating, creates new jobs

By Jeff Morrow for TCAJoB

IsoRay Medical is staying in the Tri-Cities after all.

Initially spun off by scientists from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in 1998, IsoRay and its board began looking for opportunities to expand its facilities and possibly relocate away from the Tri-Cities, where it was founded.

But in stepped the Port of Benton, which sold 4.2 acres of land in north Richland to keep the company local.

The deal was signed in September of 2015, said Diahann Howard, Director of Economic Development and Governmental Affairs for the Port of Benton.

“The land is located south of Battelle Boulevard near the Port of Benton Technology and Business campus,” Howard said.

IsoRay Medical works with Cesium-131 brachytherapy seeds to develop and manufacture them for use in medical treatments of many different cancers. Initially used to treat prostate cancer, the seeds are now used to treat head, neck, colon, ocular and gynecologic cancers.

More than 7,000 cancer patients have used this treatment.

“I think the key thing is that our product works, and it helps people in dire need,” Clay O’Laughlin, Manager Radioisotopes and Facilities at IsoRay, said.

O’Laughlin said IsoRay’s work is all conducted in the state of Washington.

“The first ever Cesium-131 patient was at the University of Washington,” O’Laughlin said. “But all of our board members are in Arizona.”

As a result, the city of Tucson offered IsoRay many incentives to move its facilities there.

The problem was the 30 current employees of IsoRay had made their homes in the Tri-Cities and didn’t want to move. That’s when the Port of Benton stepped in.

“IsoRay is one of the earliest start-up companies at the National Lab,” Howard said. “We were competing with other states for them to stay. It’s important to keep them here.”

Howard said the Port offered the land to IsoRay for a $160,000 price tag.

“It’s a 12,000-square-foot warehouse, and a 4,000-square-foot office space,” Howard said. “Although we anticipate (the office space) to be bigger.”

The end result will be a facility that should cost somewhere between $6 million and $10 million.

The deal also comes with a 10-year deed restriction.

“That includes job requirements, investment in the community and retaining the company in the community,” Howard said. “The deal also provides at least 25 full-time equivalent jobs are created. If IsoRay was to sell any of that property it has to be reviewed by the Port of Benton commissioners. If they were to sit on the property and not do anything, we’d get it back. But they’ve been working on it.”

O’Laughlin said the company is a little behind schedule.

“We slipped a little bit, but did some adjustments,” O’Laughlin said. “I think we were supposed to have started things around Aug. 5. But we spent a couple hundred grand on a contractor and architect and we threw in a bunch of changes.”

O’Laughlin said he and IsoRay Chairman of the Board and CEO Thomas LaVoy were scheduled to meet with the Port of Benton board of commissioners about their development plan at the board’s meeting in July.

“I think we’ll have a solid date by the next commissioners’ meeting,” O’Laughlin said. “My personal hope is that when the snow flies this winter, we’ll all be inside the new building.”

As an added bonus, the Port of Benton was awarded the Washington Public Ports Association’s Outstanding Job Creator Award at the organization’s annual spring conference in May.

The Port of Benton also helped Kurion, a local company that focuses on solving technical problems around nuclear waste, look for space for more of the company’s projects.

By finding solutions for both Kurion and IsoRay, the Port of Benton kept two companies local and helped create at least 50 new jobs.

And job creation falls in line with the Port of Benton’s mission statement: “To promote economic development within the Port of Benton, Benton County, Richland, Prosser, Benton City and the region.”

It’s made O’Laughlin, a long-time Tri-Citian, happy and excited for his company’s future in the Tri-Cities.

“I think we’ll have a beautiful building,” O’Laughlin said. “I’m really driving this building…I was motivated to keep this here. And I intend to get this building done.”

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