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MORRIS PLAINS, NJ-State and company officials yesterday broke ground on the first phase of what will eventually be a $500-million expansion of Pfizer Inc.’s 175-acre campus here. The pharma giant’s multi-phase project will take at least six years to complete, according to Marc Robinson, president of Pfizer Consumer Healthcare.

First up in the long-term project was the subject of yesterday’s groundbreaking, a three-story, 244,000-sf R&D center that’s being built at a cost of $200 million. Completion is slated for early 2007, according to Robinson. The facility will reach full occupancy in stages, he says.

“This state is critical to our success,” Robinson said at the event. “Our expansion here reaffirms the strong partnerships we’ve established with governments, community organizations and our other stakeholders in the state.”

Pfizer’s larger plan for the site calls for tearing down a series of 40-year-old buildings deemed obsolete, adding upwards of 1.5 million sf of space and renovating another 700,000 sf. The master plan also calls for adding three parking decks with room for approximately 3,000 cars. The property is the former Warner-Lambert campus, which Pfizer inherited when it acquired that company five years ago.

According to Robinson, the overall expansion is expected to bump the employee ranks here from the current 2,000 to upwards of 5,000. That growth has triggered a major state aid package, said to be in the neighborhood of $25 million. Pfizer is the first company to take advantage of New Jersey’s Business Retention and Relocation Grant program adopted last year.

Under the BRRAG program, Pfizer will get sales tax exemptions on the purchase of building materials, machinery and equipment, and furniture and furnishings. The program also comes with tax credits for jobs retained. “This groundbreaking is a reflection of New Jersey’s dominance in the research and life sciences industry,” Acting Gov. Richard Codey said yesterday.

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