Gov. Haley offers 'welcome' when Physicians Choice opens Riverwalk lab

dworthington@heraldonline.comJuly 8, 2013 

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley visited the new Physicians Choice Laboratory Services facility in Rock Hill's Riverwalk Business Park Monday. Joe Wiegel, the company's president of operations, left, gives Haley a tour of the lab area of the new headquarters.

ANDY BURRISS — aburriss@heraldonline.com

An idea conceived over Dunkin’ Donuts and coffee was celebrated with cupcakes and cookies Monday. The special guest traded a South Carolina flag for a pair of golden scissors and a box of cupcakes and gave her hosts her private cellphone number.

Officially, it was a grand opening for the $24 million, 104,000-square-foot Physicians Choice Laboratory Services operations in Rock Hill’s Riverwalk Business Park.

Unofficially, it was “welcome to the family,” said the special guest, Gov. Nikki Haley.

Physicians Choice is the first tenant in the Riverwalk Business Park. Company officials praised the assistance they got from local and state officials as they relocated about 200 employees from seven buildings in south Charlotte.

“This is an amazing community,” Haley said of Rock Hill, “one that will never let you down.”

Haley said the benefits of Physicians Choice to South Carolina are “not where the employees live, but the good work they do.” She said there would always be “friendly competition” between North Carolina and South Carolina for economic development.

In recent months, Shutterfly and Britax Child Safety Inc. have opened new facilities in York County, moving just minutes across the state line with its work force intact.

Philip McHugh, president and chief creativity officer for Physicians Choice, said if the decision had been just about money, the company could have gone offshore like many others have done.

But Physicians Choice needed a quick turnaround on a new space. It considered 40 sites in the Charlotte region before choosing the Riverwalk location. During negotiations and construction, Rock Hill and York County officials responded quickly whenever there was a question, he said.

Charlotte officials tried to keep the company, McHugh said, “but Rock Hill made a more competitive offer.”

The offer included state job tax credits, which means Physicians Choice receives a credit of up to $3,750 for each job created in York County.

The city approved a fee-in-lieu of tax agreement, which reduces Physicians Choice property tax by 43 percent for 30 years

Because the Riverwalk Business Park is part of the former Celanese fiber plant, Physicians Choice qualifies for state textile revitalization tax credits of up to 25 percent of the construction costs.

Physicians Choice employs about 235 people. Of those, 197 moved from the Charlotte locations to the Riverwalk office and lab. The company expects to increase its work force to about 300 people by the end of the year.

Physicians Choice’s services range from toxicology reports and drug screenings to genetic and DNA studies. Patient samples come from all over the country. The move to new quarters allows the company to expand from a toxicology lab to a “personalized medical lab,” said Joe Wiegel, the company’s president of operations.

Much of the lab’s work involves testing samples to see how various medicines and doses affect people, Wiegel said. With the new space, Wiegel said, the company hopes to expand services and the types of testing it does.

Wiegel and McHugh and several others conceived the idea for the company at a Dunkin’ Donuts in 2009, believing there could be a better way for toxicology testing. From just two employees, the company has expanded to a 24-hour, 365-day operation.

About a year ago, Physicians Choice was out of space. It started looking for a place to build about a 60,000-square-foot facility. After meeting with Red Rock Developments of Charlotte, Physicians Choice opted to build a 104,000-square-foot facility with 24,000 feet of unfinished space.

Haley toured all 104,000 square feet Monday, starting and ending in the 7,200-square-foot lobby that soars more than two stories high.

The lobby is a statement, said company officials. It is a place for Physicians Choice employees to eat, talk and to brainstorm, seeking answers to questions such as, “what can we do better today?” McHugh said.

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Don Worthington •  803-329-4066

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