DuPont pledges $200M for research center, seeks tenants

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The company name of Dupont appears above its trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

The DuPont Co.'s capital investment program, approved by the chemical giant's board last month, includes $200 million to update the DuPont Experimental Station research, development and office complex west of Wilmington and bring in other tenants.

“Our board of directors just approved a plan to spend $200 million to modernize and upgrade the Experimental Station," Chairman and CEO Edward Breen said in remarks to the Delaware state chamber of commerce Monday evening, according to excerpts from his remarks provided by the company, which has been consolidating operations, jobs and vendors as it prepares to merge with Dow Chemical Co. of Midland, Mich.

"We’re going to optimize many of our labs. We’re going to set up networked collaboration for our scientists, for our customers," and for suppliers, Breen added.

Breen and Delaware's lame-duck Gov. Jack Markell, who steps down in favor of former U.S. Rep. John Carney, D-Del., on Jan. 17, said they've been meeting over the past year to talk about ways to get other companies into space DuPont no longer needs.

Markell told me he had worried DuPont might leave the complex altogether to cut costs. "The Experimental Station is so expensive to run," he told me. With more, they can share the expenses. They would like to get more companies in there." The governor described the update and tenant recruitment process as "trying to make lemonade out of lemons." 

 The governor and legislative leaders agreed to corporate tax breaks to benefit DuPont and its planned successor companies in an effort to get the businesses to keep managers and researchers in the state the company once dominated.

DuPont laid off 1,700 locals last year -- including research scientists, technicians, accountants, lawyers and other central staffers -- leaving fewer than 5,000 of a state workforce that once numbered in the tens of thousands. More cuts are planned.

Breen says he's "excited" that DuPont will now "upgrade" some of the Station "for third-party companies to come in. They are going to have to be science-based companies. I’m hoping that there are some with contiguous things that DuPont is interested in. But we really want to use it as an incubation center" for new businesses.

Markell has said he hopes former DuPont scientists and engineers will be among those finding space in the rebuilt labs.

"I just think it’s a great environment for collaboration and scientific study," Breen concluded. "It will still be predominantly DuPont, but we need to have some other tenants in there that are really working at the same thing.”

DuPont plans to merge with Dow this Spring, pending regulatory approvals in the U.S., Europe, Asia and Latin America.

 Dow and DuPont have agreed to base their planned farm seed and pesticide spin-off and a mixed company of "specialty" electronics, nutrition and other businesses here. A materials company including most current Dow businesses will be based at Dow headquarters in Michigan.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa and officials in Indiana have argued executives and research scientists would better be based in those states, close to big agricultural customers.

DuPont Co. has already been sharing the Experimental Station site with earlier spin-offs and successors, including Chemours (which makes Teflon, paint and plastics bases), Axalta (auto paints) and Invista (the Koch Industries unit that makes nylon, which DuPont invented).

Markell said DuPont affiliates have been interested in working with the University of Delaware, which has recently expanded its own labs at its Newark, Del. campus, about helping coordinate Experimental Station work. University spokeswoman Andrea Boyle said the school and the company have been in talks about expanding research locations, but have not settled on the Station or other sites. (Update)

DuPont pulled out of its Wilmington headquarters complex, which once occupied four block-sized masonry, concrete and glass high rises, last year.

Chemours has remained in DuPont's Wilmington complex near Rodney Square. Chemours said Tuesday it plans to renovate space for 700 workers in partnership with Buccini/Pollin Group, a Wilmington developer which has purchased the building. (Corrected 1/11. The earlier version of the story referenced a different part of the former DuPont headquarters complex.)

Buccini/Pollin has been acquiring former DuPont-related properties and other aging Wilmington business properties, and converting some to hotels and apartments, much as Philadelphia developer Bill Glazer's Keystone Property Group has been planning apartments in the former Curtis Publishing headquarters buildings in Philadelphia. 

Wilmington lost thousands of downtown jobs as the former MBNA Corp., Wilmington Trust Co., Delmarva Power and Hercules Inc. sold to out-of-town buyers who downsized operations in the small city over the past decade.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. and other credit card and student lenders and tax-shelter companies have expanded Wilmington-area employment, and former credit card executives have founded a string of small financial-tech companies.

But the city's office towers and its Market Street business district still include extensive vacancies, which newly-elected Mayor Mike Purzycki, a long-ago National Football League player who has led Wilmington redevelopment efforts, hopes to fill. 

NEW: What's the impact of Delaware tax cuts on DuPont successor companies?