Allergan enhances life and prosperity in Westport community
The multinational company is not only the picturesque town’s biggest employer, it also plays a vital role in bringing much-needed business to local enterprises
David Monaghan (senior manager, Analytical Technology), Ayleen McNamara (associate director, Quality Compliance), Shane Spratt (project engineer) and Isaac Safo-Ankoma (manufacturing technician). Photograph: Michael Mc Laughlin
Westport in Co Mayo is the focal point today for one of the world’s most successful pharmaceutical companies. Credit then to the IDA’s pioneering decision to build an advance factory building – a lure that inspired a modest US maker of eyecare products called Allergan to open its European base in the picture-postcard town.
That was 1977. Today, the ever-expanding Allergan manufacturing site exceeds 750,000sq ft on 61 acres and its 1,200 staff work in shifts round the clock to develop and manufacture a range of branded medicines, such as Botox, therapeutic products and a wide range of treatments for eye diseases. To say Allergan has become Westport’s biggest employer barely hints at its true impact on the town of barely 6,000.
“We are the biggest, most complex site in the company. We generate more value in products manufactured than any other site in the network,” says Paul Coffey, vice president and plant general manager, Allergan Westport, who notes that more than 1,000 customers have visited in the past three years, driving business for the town’s hotels and other businesses.
Paul Coffey, a native of Ennis in Co Clare, hadn’t heard of Allergan when a company representative recruited him for a three-month work placement back in 1993 while he was still studying at University College Galway.
Until that moment, Coffey, the youngest of 10, had assumed he might well end up in Dublin or emigrate for work like three of his siblings. Instead, he borrowed his father’s car to make his first-ever trip to Westport. Within three months, he’d won promotion to a permanent post and, he recalls with a smile, “I’ve never looked back”.
Coffey is confident the only way is up for Allergan in Westport, given its record of investing more than €400 million in on-site technology and infrastructure, most recently a new biologics facility which finished construction in 2015 and will be used to manufacture a range of biologic products.
He says workers not originally from Westport quickly fall in love with the town and its active outdoor lifestyle framed by the Clew Bay coastline and towering Croagh Patrick. Teams from Allergan take part in the town’s June triathlon and the Sea2Summit competition each November as thousands climb the front face of the 2,507-ft mountain. Fishing, rock-climbing and surfing are popular workforce pursuits, too.
Like much of Westport, he recalls how the town was named the best place in Ireland to live in an Irish Times competition in 2012. And he says an undeniable engine for driving Westport’s positive energy is how Allergan provides its young a viable option for pursuing high-quality, high-tech careers without leaving home.
“It would be difficult to find someone living in Westport who isn’t connected to Allergan in some way,” Coffey says.
He’s proud to show off Westport to visitors, too. When clients or executives visit the plant, he says the company can happily recommend 10 local restaurants and a dozen choices of accommodation.
“Even when Ireland suffered an economic downturn, Allergan’s strong performance kept things fairly steady in Westport. We’re proud that Allergan has had such a positive impact on the local economy,” he says.
Here’s an introduction to some members of Allergan’s professional family in Westport.
Associate director of quality compliance
Ayleen McNamara, Allergan’s associate director of quality compliance in Westport, is a home-grown woman of many talents. A chemist by training, McNamara worked her way up from the lab floor to become an associate director today, where she wields the expertise and legal authority to sign off on all products for worldwide export. As its quality and regulatory compliance manager, her job is to ensure the facility is fulfilling the requirements of all procedures and regulatory requirements and oversees visits by Irish and international inspectors, ensuring health authorities from Washington to Beijing keep licensing imports of Allergan’s Irish-made goods.
But her most rewarding task, McNamara says, is showing colleagues just how much their work touches patients’ lives.
Every few months, she brings in doctors and users of Westport-made products to describe their medical challenges and how an Allergan product makes life more liveable. Typically, she says, more than half of the workforce attends these presentations.
The first patient to present her treatment story, a woman in her 20's, described “all the things she couldn't do - and how Allergan Westport products had dramatically improved her life”.
“For employees, seeing and hearing that woman’s story first-hand was better than a hundred presentations on why quality is important or on how our products make a difference to people’s lives.”
A native of Kilmeena, north of Westport, McNamara was recruited in 2000 into a full-time role. Allergan has since sponsored her to complete two postgraduate courses at Trinity as part of her rapid professional development. Now married to a Westport man, with two boys aged four and six, McNamara says she treasures the ability to have a world-class career so close to both sets of parents.
Senior manager of analytical technology
When any client worldwide reports something unusual about a product, David Monaghan is alerted in Westport. And he’s pleased to report that, virtually every time, his increasingly detailed testing reveals it’s a false alarm.
Just five years after completing his PhD thesis on seeking cancer-fighting properties in therapeutic drugs, Monaghan today leads a team of Allergan scientists who test, test and test again to maintain quality controls on each production batch of Botox.
Monaghan, a 30-year-old native of Tuam expresses relief that his rapid advancement to a management position still allows him to wade daily into the problem-solving nitty-gritty of lab work. Barely three years ago, in team meetings he was usually called on to speak only if a bioassay had revealed a concern that required investigation. Soon, Monaghan was asked to lead those meetings and, recently, was promoted to senior manager of analytical technology.
“I get my greatest reward from being able to talk to the team using my knowledge about the assay, the protein and the molecule itself and how to ensure methods are performing optimally,” he says. “Allergan has empowered me to use my technical understanding to influence decision-making, to be able to state: this is the fact, this is what the data says and this is how we move forward.”
It’s intellectually intense work, requiring painstaking attention to detail. Fortunately, Monaghan finds Westport the ideal base for clearing a weary head, too.
He’s an avid surfer, hitting the waves every few weeks at nearby Easky. He chills out fly-fishing for salmon on the River Moy that divides Mayo and Sligo and, when the schedule permits, proves a willing winger at Castlebar Rugby Football Club.
Monaghan’s a relative newlywed, too, having married Michelle, a fellow PhD-level immunologist, in March in her native Mayo village of Parke. She works at a Ballina biopharmaceutical lab and they live midway between there and Westport. Both had ambitions for post-doctoral studies but, once they learned this could force them to live countries or even continents apart, shelved that ambition and embraced the fact that, as Monaghan puts it, “we’re a couple of homebirds at heart and love being close to our families”.
Barely a decade ago, Isaac Safo-Ankoma was in his native Ghana, seeking a path to join his wife and son some 5,500km away in Ireland. Today, he’s an Irish citizen, a pastor of a church, a father of three boys, and an Allergan technician working in a team trialling the company’s newest production line in Westport.
Anyone who meets Safo-Ankoma, with his positive energy and infectious laugh, comes away in no doubt that Ghana’s loss is Ireland’s gain. When he joined his family in Castlebar in 2007, his wife was studying for a Masters in Management at UCD and his Ireland-born son was learning his first Irish words at primary school.
“I had plenty of catching up to do and found the early going frustrating,” Safo-Ankoma says. “I don’t like being idle. I studied the business terrain here and saw that pharma is big, so I found the right course.”
To add to his degree from a Ghanaian university he earned a HETAC Level 8 in Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Manufacturing at Innopharma Lab campus in Galway. Safo-Ankoma joined Allergan in May 2016 to help roll out a production line in the company’s new B2 biologics plant.
“In the B2 facility, we are still in the trial stages for going into full commercial production very soon,” says Safo-Ankoma, who helps operate two key pieces of equipment that ensure every vial used to hold freeze-dried Botox is free of impurities.
Each thousand-strong batch of vials is sent down conveyor belts into a machine he describes as “the biggest vial washer you’ve ever seen”, then into a super-heater called a depyrogenation tunnel that subjects the glass vials to 330°C heat.
His colleagues know he never works Wednesday nights or Sundays because that’s when he becomes Pastor Safo-Ankoma of Castlebar’s Redeemed Christian Church of God, an evangelical denomination popular in West Africa. His standing invitation to teammates to come sample one of the two-hour services followed by African dishes – “Delicious, hot and spicy!” he declares – has yet to yield results. But he remains very optimistic.
Shane Spratt faces the biggest weekly commute in Allergan’s entire workforce – but still finds it a lot handier than working in his native Dublin.
As an Allergan packaging engineer, Spratt spends Monday through Friday making Allergan’s biggest robotic packaging line more efficient and capable. He devotes his weekends in Dublin to his wife, two young sons and his beloved football as a player-manager for an over-35s squad.
To many, the weekly 520-kilometre round trip seems an unbelievable commute, but Spratt finds it a lot more relaxing – and less time-consuming – than his years lost in crawling Dublin traffic.
Spratt, 37, was raised in Beaumont, studied engineering at DIT on Kevin Street, Dublin and spent a decade in an eclectic mix of sales jobs. When he saw the engineering opportunity at Allergan, he didn’t hesitate and soon rented a Westport residence two minutes’ drive from work.
“I don’t miss showing up to work stressed from the commute. I’m getting plenty of sleep and I’m focused,” says Spratt.
He often finds himself pondering his coast-to-coast commute versus uprooting the family to Westport, a community that’s quickly won him over with its intimacy and friendliness.
“The Westport people are phenomenal. It’s a different world,” he says. “When I go home on a Friday to Swords and say hello to people, they look at me as if I’m crazy. Everyone in Westport says hello. I’ve picked up the habit.”
He’s found Allergan to be a caring community, too. When the daughter of one of his friends in Dublin was diagnosed with cancer and needed specialist care in Germany, Spratt helped raise funds with raffle tickets. His manager suggested he should send an email company-wide. Replies flooded his inbox. “Within the day we’d raised €3,000. I was overwhelmed.”
The economic impact of Allergan’s operations in Ireland
According to Economic Consultants DKM, Allergan has made a significant contribution to the Irish economy since its establishment 40 years ago. Among the key impacts have been:
Investments in Ireland:
- Valued at a cumulative €610 million to 2017;
- Delivering state-of-the art manufacturing facilities producing pharmaceutical products for the global market;
- Generating almost 5,000 years of employment throughout the economy;
- A considerable acceleration in capital investment since 2010, coinciding with the recent deep recession, and representing a strong vote of confidence in Ireland during those challenging years.
Total sales by Allergan’s Irish operations amounted to €2.96 billion in 2015, predominantly for export.
Allergan’s operations in Ireland added €414 million to Ireland’s GDP in 2015. This represents 0.2 per cent of the entire national GDP.
Allergan directly employs almost 1,700 people in Ireland. The firm makes significant purchases in the Irish economy, which supports more than 600 further jobs in the supply chain and 500 in the wider economy.
Allergan is the largest industrial employer in Co Mayo, responsible for generating more than 5 per cent of the county’s GDP and more than 1.5 per cent of the GDP of the western region.
Allergan’s operations in Ireland embody the industrial strategy of IDA Ireland, in terms of:
- Occupying the key target sectors and activities identified in the IDA 2015-2019 development strategy;
- Making a strong contribution to regional investments targets, as a key part of the North-West Life Sciences arc stretching from Sligo to Westport;
- Acting as flagship campuses for other pharmaceutical firms considering investing in Ireland;
- Employing a high proportion of third-level graduates;
- Investing strongly in R&D on both campuses.
Allergan has built strong relationships and collaborates closely with local and national universities and institutes of technology, assisting in the design and provision of courses, and providing internships and permanent employment opportunities for students.
The Allergan campuses are noteworthy in being located in areas that exhibit geographic and socio-economic challenges, making the economic benefits they generate particularly valuable.
Westport town architect thinks Allergan’s just what the doctor ordered
As the town architect, Simon Wall offers a unique perspective on Westport – past, present and future. He sees Allergan as a positive force in driving every community development. Whereas areas hit by emigration can suffer a brain drain, he sees how Allergan’s workforce has provided a powerful brain gain for his adopted home.
“Allergan has been really good for Westport. It has grown and grown with the town every step of the way. Without Allergan, we’d be missing our top employer and main financial driver,” says Wall, a Dubliner who arrived in 1996 to become Westport’s first dedicated full-time planning official.
When Wall thinks of community improvements over the past two decades, he credits Westport’s 97 volunteer organisations with making much of it happen – and sees Allergan employees to the fore of many of them.
“The most potent effect of Allergan, beyond bringing good jobs and economic stability to the town, is its tremendous pool of talent, energy and intellectual capacity,” Wall says. “Many Allergan employees volunteer and lend their management expertise to driving those organisations. It’s only natural that they often find themselves playing important roles in developing Westport.”
Wall quickly rattles off a half-dozen examples in which Allergan staff helped him and the town provide vision, ambition and the savvy to secure funding for new facilities. He notes that Allergan staff have served as Westport Chamber of Commerce leaders, as planners for the town’s Tidy Towns victories, and as early proponents for its restored community hall and theatre on the Octagon, the centrepiece of Georgian Westport.
When Wall was board chairman for a dilapidated primary school south of Westport, Brackloon National School, he drafted plans to build a new four-classroom structure, but securing the needed €250,000 from the Department of Education seemed a daunting task.
“One guy on our committee, Gerry Walsh, had been a production manager at Allergan. His expertise drove the project. It was 2 ½ years from the application to turning the key on the school, which was phenomenal,” Wall said. “If it weren’t for Gerry, the project would have languished for many more years. That personally touched me.”
He credits Peter Flynn, Allergan’s tax director for Europe and Asia and a former Westport town councilman, with wielding positive influence over several Tidy Town triumphs since 2001, the 2012-2016 development of a pedestrian and cycling Greenway that connects Allergan with most of Westport, and the €3.1 million development of the new Westport Town Theatre unveiled in 2015.
While Wall says his purview doesn’t extend to Allergan’s campus on Westport’s eastern edge, he likes the look of Allergan’s newly-built second production facility.
“Industrial buildings usually are clad in metal and featureless, whereas if you look at the new Allergan building, especially the elevation looking to the west, it is quite expressive and highly modern and contemporary.”
Perhaps the most striking fact: whereas objections to construction plans are the norm in Ireland, Wall says Westport has demonstrated total support for each Allergan application to expand its facilities.
“I’m the planner, I’ve been here for most of Allergan’s expansion, and I can confirm there’s never been a planning objection to anything they’ve ever done. In Ireland, that is truly remarkable – and tells you something about the culture of community solidarity here.”
Wall offers a final anecdote that suggests Westport is just what the doctor ordered for Allergan, too.
“I remember when I first came to Westport, an Allergan manager told me: ‘Westport is the graveyard of the ambition for many a young Allergan executive’ – because it’s such a great town, and their families love living here. The truly ambitious should want to go all over the world in their Allergan careers, but they don’t want to leave here.”
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