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European Big Ag Company Chooses St. Louis

BRDG Park at the Danforth Center.
Courtesy Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
BRDG Park at the Danforth Center.

KWS, a German agricultural company, is opening a research center at BRDG Park in the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center’s campus.

The company, which specializes in plant breeding, has 4,800 employees in 70 countries. The new facility will be its first molecular plant research space in North America, hiring 25 positions in the first year and another 75 in following years.

Perhaps most significantly, however, is that KWS chose St. Louis over many other cities including North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, where several major seed companies have a presence. Robert Heidhues, head of KWS’ R&D Controlling, said it was a close decision.

"I think what brought St. Louis ahead was the unique constellation of the Donald Danforth Center with the existing BRDG Park next to it, which brought the opportunity to move in quick, in combination with the universities like Washington University," he said.

The company is in the design phase of what will be called the KWS Gateway Research Center and plans to start construction on labs in August. Heidhues said they hope to move in by the end of the year.

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center’s Chief Operating Officer and president of BRDG Park, Sam Fiorello, said KWS’ decision to move here also sends a message to other companies that they can move in across the street from the world’s biggest seed company.

"One of the things that we have been up against is that other companies think 'Well, this is a Monsanto town,'" Fiorello said. "While Monsanto is a vitally important partner for the Danforth Center, it’s important to send a message that we are about all sorts of players in the ag industry."

In fact, Fiorello said, early negotiations with an unnamed Israeli firm have sped up since the deal with KWS was inked.

KWS is receiving a number of state and local incentives in making the move, including up to $1.7 million from the Missouri Works program and $85,000 in Missouri Works Training.  Governor Jay Nixon, who was on the hand for the announcement Monday, said KWS is bringing the kinds of jobs that the state wants.

"When you look at the bio-science sector and an international brand like this, this is the kind of place where you can get some long-term sustained growth in the economy," Nixon said.

KWS is the fourth-largest seed company in the world and had $1.4 billion in net sales last year. The KWS Gateway Research Center will be its first research facility outside Germany. 

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.