Research growth a $40m venture

AgResearch will spend an estimated $40 million expanding its Palmerston North facility to cater for the extra 50 staff it is moving to the city.

Details of the investment in its Fitzherbert Grasslands have been revealed, including plans for a walkway beneath the state highway that divides Massey University from the neighbouring science centre.

"The Palmerston North site has about 190 science staff and it's bursting at the seams. So we're planning the facility this year and building in 2015-16, with the final move expected in 2017," chief executive Tom Richardson said.

AgResearch was moving people from its Invermay site near Dunedin and its Ruakura site near Hamilton. Staff at Lincoln were expected to concentrate on behind the farm-gate research, while Palmerston North would do research related to what happened to food once it left the farm.

"Food HQ is based in Palmerston North. We'll be working more closely with Fonterra, Massey University and Plant and Food as well as the Biocommerce Centre. Many of them do research at Palmerston North."

Dr Richardson said the Palmerston North City Council had been helpful and planning was under way so that the Fitzherbert science centres and Massey would be better linked, rather than being separated by State Highway 57.

He said they had assurances research institutions intended to stay in Palmerston North.

"But we do need a major refurbishment of the existing buildings and some new ones which will be planned so we can work more collaboratively."

He said staff had until 2017 to decide whether they would relocate, though a few people had indicated that it would suit them to move earlier because of their children's schooling.

He said about a third of the relocating AgResearch staff are due to retire by 2017, and they'll think carefully about how moving might impact on them.

"We have made a number of new recruits. New researchers look at the facilities and who they'll be collaborating with. That's what attracts them." But Dr Richardson said the changes had been "more unsettling" for existing staff.

AgResearch had looked at its farm portfolio, he said, and most of its 1193 hectare block at Flock House near Scotts Ferry is being sold. "But we're keeping a small part of that farm, because there's research being done there."

Palmerston North Mayor Jono Naylor welcomed the news from AgResearch, saying an investment in its property showed it had a long-term commitment to the city.

"It recognises the importance of food research here in Palmerston North and reinforces that Palmerston North is the premier place for this sort of research."

The relocation of up to 50 well-paying jobs to the city would have flow-on effects as well, he said.

"Fifty jobs of this type create a lot of spending as well, whether it's more teachers or more shopkeepers or whatever, it's very good news."

The council had been working with AgResearch to assist with its move and the relocation of staff, Mr Naylor said.

Manawatu Standard