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Why a Gainesville life science firm decided to open its HQ2 in Tampa

Margie Manning



Heights Union (rendering from TPA Group)

Talent was a key factor in persuading executives at Axogen Inc. to open a second headquarters office in Tampa.

Axogen (Nasdaq: AXGN), a Gainesville life science company that is developing products for nerve repair, expects to open a 75,000-square-foot corporate headquarters office this spring in The Heights, a mixed-use district just north of downtown Tampa on the Hillsborough River.

“We’re going to maintain our Gainesville headquarters as well,” said Peter Mariani, Axogen’s chief financial officer. “We’re just two hours away so we can manage the dual headquarters situation pretty well, ensuring that we keep the talent we’ve been able to develop here in the state.”

The fast-growing company has 375 employees and decided it needed to expand, Mariani said during a panel discussion in Tampa at the BioFlorida annual conference.

Pete Mariani, CFO, Axogen

“I went through a process of about 18 months to determine where we will grow the company. We got close to a large other city, and we finally stepped back and said this is about really about talent — not only the talent you need to acquire but the talent you already have that you want to continue to invest in and the people who have already invested in you,” Mariani said.

He talked to some executives who relocated their companies and admitted one reason they did it was to get rid of “deadwood.”

“For us it was the exact opposite.  What we recognized was we needed to adapt in a way that allowed us to grow and preserve the talent we have,” Mariani said.

Axogen has a distribution center near Dallas, and is building a biologics processing center in Dayton, Ohio.

“But from a headquarters perspective we realized we wanted to be within two hours of our current place in Gainesville. We looked all around the state, but when we saw all the investment and energy going on here in Tampa, and the leadership here, we got excited about the possibility of coming here to Tampa,” Mariani said.

Axogen is taking three floors of the six-story Heights Union, described by Atlanta-based developer TPA Group as a two-building, seven-story Class A office development. TPA Group is partnering with Tampa’s Soho Capital on the project.

The Axogen space will include labs, training facilities, executive offices, meeting spaces and employee gathering spaces, said Emerald Engineering Inc. in Tampa. “This project is an intensive lab design project as a result of an open general lab, tissue processing lab, cell culture lab, chemistry lab and a manufacturing lab,” a description on Emerald’s website said.

“There’s a lot of communication in the company about where we are in the process and we’ve made it abundantly clear to our folks Gainesville that we’re keeping that headquarters there. They don’t have to move to Tampa, but if they want to move to Tampa we’ll help them do that,” Mariani said.

Because the company was out of space in Gainesville, it’s opened a temporary location in the Tampa Bay Times building in downtown Tampa and has about 25 people at that location, he said.

Axogen was founded in 2002 with technology licensed from the University of Florida and the University of Texas in Austin, Mariani said.

“We do nerve repair. We take human nerve tissue from donors and we process it in a way that allows it to be used as an off-the-shelf allograft to repair damaged nerves,” he said. “Without our product, surgeons have to harvest tissue from behind a patient’s leg. That’s called an autograft. That process works well, but it leaves the patient with a numb foot for the rest of their lives and it’s a complex and costly surgery. We are able to provide an off-the-shelf solution that can eliminate that cost and co-morbidities.”

Axogen also is working on a biologics license application process with the Food & Drug Administration.

In 2018, Axogen reported a net loss of $22.4 million, or 60 cents a share, on revenue of $84 million. Revenue increased almost 39 percent between 2017 and 2018, primarily as a result of continuing growth in active accounts, the company said in its annual report.

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