WESTBROOK (AP) – Idexx Laboratories announced Thursday it will move ahead with a $100 million expansion that will create up to 500 jobs, further transforming the economy of a city long defined by its aging paper mill.

President and CEO Jonathan Ayers said the decision to expand in Westbrook, where the fast-growing biotechnology company has been headquartered since 1991, solidifies Idexx’s commitment to the city and to Maine.

Ayers was joined at the announcement by Gov. John Baldacci and Mayor Bruce Chuluda, who helped to structure city and state tax incentives that the company said were essential in offsetting some of the higher costs of doing business in Maine.

Under the proposed tax incentive financing agreement with Westbrook, Idexx stands to retain $10 million, or two-thirds of the taxes generated by the expansion over the next 20 years. In addition, the company is expected to seek reimbursement for a share of state income tax withheld from the new jobs over a 10-year period.

The jobs will cover the full spectrum of corporate activity, from biotechnoolgy and life sciences to manufacturing and marketing, and will be added over five years, Ayers said. Under the plan, Idexx will purchase the 480,000-square-foot building in which it operates and may at some point erect another building across the road.

Idexx, which has leased its space in a building vacated by electronics manufacturer Sanmina-SCI, “will be going from renter to homeowner, really putting down roots in Westbrook, Maine,” Ayers said.

Chuluda said the 500 new jobs “will go a long way toward offsetting the 3,000 jobs that were lost in the manufacturing sector over the past eight years” in Westbrook. Some of those job losses came at the Sappi Inc. paper mill, once the city’s dominant employer, whose work force has declined from a peak of more than 3,000 in the 1950s to roughly one-tenth that number today.

Ayers recalled that Idexx, which makes products for the veterinary medical market, was launched in the early 1980s as a start-up venture along the Portland waterfront with a work force of fewer than a dozen. The company now employs more than 3,000 people worldwide, including 1,200 in Westbrook whose average pay is 50 percent higher than the state median, he said.

In addition to the veterinary market, Idexx also has leading positions in diagnostic tests for poultry, cattle and swine producers and tests for quality and safety of water and milk.

“If you own a pet, drink milk, eat chicken, pork or beef, or drink the municipal water, you in all likelihood have benefited from the Idexx technology developed or manufactured here in Westbrook, Maine,” Ayers told dozens of employees and guests at the announcement.

Baldacci said the Idexx expansion is a reflection of the state’s efforts to stimulate research and development as well as its success in expanding educational opportunities at the state university and the community colleges.

“It’s a great day in the state of Maine,” said Baldacci, who has made job creation a top priority of his administration.

On the Net: http://www.idexx.com

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