Genentech submits a big plan to expand its South San Francisco footprint
The sign is still there, a quaint reminder of whitewashed concrete not 5 miles from Genentech’s sprawling, chrome-and-glass campus: South Francisco The Industrial City.
The city keeps the old sign, first erected in 1923, as a tourist site and a kind of civic memento to the days it packed meat, milled lumber and burned enough steel to earn the moniker “Smokestack of the Peninsula.” But the real indication of where you are and how much has changed both in San Francisco and in the global economy since a couple researchers and investors rented out an empty warehouse 40 years ago comes in a far smaller blue sign, resembling a Rotary Club post, off the highway: South San Francisco, The Birthplace of Biotech.
Now Genentech, the first modern biotech, is seeking to expand its presence even further. It has submitted a proposal to the city that would expand its campus up to 9 million square feet, and, potentially, more than double its current employee base from around 10,500 to 22,500.
The Roche subsidiary, with its 4.7 million feet campus, is already one of San Francisco’s largest real estate holders but city statutes currently cap ownership at 6 million square feet. After cuts last year to staff, the move signals Genentech’s commitment to the campus and its pioneering role in the Bay Area biopharma ecosystem.
The biotech first set up shop here in 1978, two years after venture capitalist Robert Swanson and biochemist Herbert Boyer launched the company to capitalize on Boyer’s pioneering work in recombinant DNA. Boyer and Swanson met with then-mayor and now US Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) who pitched them on the spot’s reasonable rent and proximity to Stanford and the University of California San Francisco. They then proceeded to build an empire that reshaped biotech and turned SSF, as the area is known, into a specialized innovation hub now home to over 100 biotechs.
The submitted plan would see Genentech erecting new buildings at in-fill sites, some of which would be up to nine stories high, a move that would increase Genentech’s visibility – and put that old South San Francisco The Industrial City sign just a little more out of sight.
Update: This story was updated to clarify the size of the expansion and correct the number of employees.