Open house lets SHINE meet community, answer questions
JANESVILLE As Greg Piefer looked at Janesville from afar, the founder and chief executive officer of SHINE Medical Technologies saw a community that had been pummeled economically.
He also saw a community with strong leadership that would welcome his medical isotope production company.
Janesville, Piefer noticed, was getting up off the mat and reinventing itself without an auto industry, which for decades had been the foundation of the local economy.
"We believe we fit into this evolutionary Janesville story," Piefer said Tuesday at a community open house at Rotary Gardens. "That story is based on high-tech, advanced manufacturing and a strong health care industry.
"Our business fits into all three."
SHINE plans to build a production facility on the city's south side that would initially make molybdenum-99, a medical isotope used in more than 30 different diagnostic imaging procedure that are performed more than 50,000 times each day in the United States.
The Janesville City Council on Monday is expected to act on a development agreement with SHINE. The company has said it will create about 125 well-paying jobs when it begins production in 2015.
In Rock County, SHINE could join another medical isotope maker, NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes, which plans to build a $194 million plant in Beloit and create more than 150 jobs by 2016.
SHINE and NorthStar are two of just four U.S. companies supported by the National Nuclear Security Administration as it pushes for a more reliable and diverse supply of Mo-99.
Historically, most Mo-99 used in the United States has been produced in Canada and the Netherlands. Both reactors, however, are operating beyond their licensed lives, and unscheduled shutdowns have caused worldwide shortages that delayed or canceled millions of medical procedures.
James Otterstein, Rock County's economic development manager, said the possibility of having two producers puts the county in a unique position, not only for the sector itself but for the ancillary businesses they could attract.
"This is certainly an exciting time for the community," he said.
Tuesday's open house was well attended, with 120 people signing registers. Many arrived ahead of the event's official 5 p.m. start.
Employees staffed five information kiosks that focused on SHINE's technology, its commitment to safety and the environment, the medical need for the product, potential jobs it could bring and the benefits SHINE would bring to the community.
Crowds gathered around each.
"I want to be excited about this, because I think it could be a good thing for Janesville," said Ron Lucerne of Janesville, who was eyeing the technology kiosk with his wife. "But there's a lot I don't understand, and that's why we came."
Piefer and his staff welcomed the questions.
They also took the opportunity to ask some of their own.
"We don't want to be a user of the community," Piefer said. "The only way that can happen is if we get to know you as a community."
Piefer said Tuesday's open house was the first of several the company will stage as it works through an intense series of steps before actual production begins.
State Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, said Tuesday's open house was a true reflection of the company and people he's gotten to know in the last year or so.
"The fact that they're doing this for the community, not just a select group of people, says a lot," Cullen said to the crowd. "Am I going to tell all of you I'm an expert in everything they do?
"No, but I like to think I'm not too bad a judge of character, and Greg is the kind of person who should be running this business. He's honest, and he's straight-forward."
After the open house, Piefer said he was thrilled with the turnout and the opportunity to tell SHINE's story.
"We had a number of people interested in how it works and why it's needed," he said. "There was also a lot of interest in safety, and we're always willing to talk about that.
"I'm sure we have to build up a level of trust before some people believe what we're saying, and that's fine."