JWC negotiates major new economic development

Robin Bradshaw
Alice Echo News Journal

Jim Wells County could possibly become one of the major suppliers and the largest breeding facility for primates in the United States, according to county officials.

The new economic development would occupy the expansion of the current local company Envigo to include the breeding and export of primate monkeys.

This year's global pandemic and the current needs for testing human disease demands have exceeded the supply. The facility in Alice would reduce the U.S. reliance on international primates predominately from China. 

Congressman Filemón Vela, State Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, Jim Wells County Judge Juan Rodriguez, Alice Mayor Jolene Vanover, Economic Development Director Larry Martinez, and the Ben Barnes Group have worked together for JWC to be considered as the site for Envigo's expansion. JWC applied for a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration to assist in the economic expansion - an attractive invitation for Envigo. Currently, the obligations needed to secure the $5 million grant are in contractual land negotiations and are anticipated to be finalized later in the week. 

"The possibilities that can grow from this new economic development would include medical research with Texas A&M University and the University of Texas, education opportunities locally to align with the medical field, higher-paying employment positions, increased county and city revenue, and a step in the right direction for a more secure economy," said County Judge Juan Rodriguez.    

The expansion of the Alice site would further the development of vaccines, therapeutics, medical research, and put the City of Alice on the map as one of the major primate suppliers in the country.

"This would be a great economic opportunity for Jim Wells County and the City of Alice and 'it is time' - to seize the moment," said Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa. "The economy in Jim Wells County dependently fluctuates with the oil industry and the Envigo expansion will help diversify that economic dependence with 20 plus high paying professional jobs and future opportunities to expand that growth locally."

China currently produces eighty percent of the primates imported to the United States and is banning many of those exports to meet its in-country needs to further its own medical research and development.

The plan is to expand its existing 200-acre facility in Alice to create a self-sufficient breeding operation to provide up to 10,000 primates per year for medical research sustaining one-third of the U.S. demand. Given the high demand and increased global risk to transport the primates, the Alice site is considered a premier location for Envigo to expand their operations. Although, California, Indiana, and Virginia are also being considered for the company's expansion project. 

The creation and expansion of a new breeding facility will be the largest of its kind in the United States and will provide critical testing to federal and state agencies and academic institutions. The new development is in negotiations at this time, additional details involving the Envigo expansion in JWC are expected to be known in the next few weeks. 

Example of an unnamed primate farm with approximately 3,500 units