Ben Shaw, co-founder and CEO of Vets First Choice

Vets First Choice will construct a new corporate facility in Portland that is expected to create “hundreds” of news jobs, due in part to $9 million it will receive from the Maine Technology Institute.

MTI on Monday announced that five organizations, including Vets First Choice, would receive a combined $24.5 million from the Maine Technology Asset Fund 2.0 program, which is financed by the $45 million bond approved by voters in June 2017. (See more about the four other projects receiving funding below.)

The news release revealed that Vets First Choice, which provides technology solutions and back-end pharmacy services to veterinary practices throughout the country, would be building a new $20 million corporate facility “on the peninsula” and that it would receive $9 million from the state to help fund the project.

The new facility will include an automated fulfillment center, state-of-the-art specialty pharmacy, and a world-class science, technology, engineering and math center, according to the news release. The company has also formed a strategic partnership with the University of New England College of Pharmacy for residency, training and development programs.

Vets First Choice last summer raised $223 million in equity financing to fuel its global expansion plans, so I asked CEO Ben Shaw why the company needed state assistance after receiving such a large infusion of capital from private sources.

Though Vet First Choice was founded in Portland and still has its headquarters in the city, Shaw said locating this new facility in Maine was not a foregone conclusion.

“But for this support from MTI, we would have located a large-scale pharmacy operation in the northeast (certainly not Maine). Maine was able to provide a similar incentive to other states, and that enabled us to locate this facility and these new jobs here,” Shaw wrote in an email. “I’m delighted that these hundreds of new jobs will be located in Maine, and excited for the important partnership with UNE which will be critical to the success of this effort.”

Shaw said the company has not yet chosen a location, but is actively reviewing options and hopes to be operational in 2019. He noted that the facility will be “a highly regulatory laboratory and requires substantial permitting which typically can take a year or more.”

He said the new facility would also serve as the company’s new headquarters, yet the majority of the space would be allocated to a large scale pharmacy operation.

MTI, in administering the MTAF2.0 funds, evaluated the proposals for funding (183 of them seeking, in aggregate, close to $381 million) against the stated desired economic outputs of growth or retention of market share, increased revenues, new and retained jobs, and the feasibility of the proposed projects to achieve their projected outputs, according to Brian Whitney, president of MTI.

“The Vet First Choice project fits well within the program parameters and has very high and demonstrable economic outputs,” Whitney said.

$15.5 million awarded to four other projects

Besides Vets First Choice, MTI also announced on Monday four other organizations that will receive funding from the MTAF2.0 program.

C & L Aerospace Holdings LLC in Bangor will receive $2,634,500 to help expand its current manufacturing facility with the purchase of necessary equipment to support the increased engineering and production efforts. The company said it expects revenue to grow 50% over the next three years. The total project cost is $5.7 million.

Good To-Go LLC, which produces gourmet-style dehydrated meals for hikers and other outdoorsy folk, will receive $150,000 to expand its Kittery facility with a USDA-compliant packaging room that will house a semi-automated filler/bagging machine. The total project cost is $300,000.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear in Biddeford will receive $177,670 that will be put toward a production-automation and efficiency project that will increase the market competitiveness of its high-tech, light-weight outdoor gear. The total project cost is $355,341.

The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor will receive $12.5 million toward the construction of a state-of-the-art research mouse-production facility in Ellsworth. The nonprofit laboratory has already committed $75 million to the first phase of the three-phase project and will match the $12.5 million grant from MTAF with an additional $47.5 million, to complete the project’s second phase.

MTI commissioned an independent economic impact analysis, which projects that the five projects will lead to 2,040 new jobs and a collective $453 million in economic output for the state.

MTI is expected to announce additional MTAF2.0 awards later in February.