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Rx for growth at Gateway.

Byline: Sherri Buri McDonald The Register-Guard

The largest building in Springfield's Gateway business park, shuttered for more than a year after Sony Disc Manufacturing pulled out in April 2003, is coming back on line.

The second-floor production space, where Sony used to churn out music and game compact discs, now is buzzing with technicians and equipment used to analyze patient specimens for Oregon Medical Laboratories.

The sprawling 327,000-square-foot building - once considered Lane County's biggest real estate white elephant - has turned out to be quite an asset for OML's parent company, PeaceHealth.

Its transformation also is an asset to the overall community, Springfield Mayor Sid Leiken said.

Sony's closure was "one of the ultimate disappointments for our community," Leiken said. So to have a new user buy and set up operations in the facility is a positive development, he said.

Springfield will lose some property taxes, given that most of PeaceHealth's operations are nonprofit. But OML has more employees than Sony used to have, Leiken said, and it will "play an important role" in Springfield's future development.

PeaceHealth bought the building, which sits on 35 acres, and 18 additional nearby acres in August 2004 at the bargain basement price of $16.6 million.

Now, after more than $16 million in renovations, OML occupies about 80,000 square feet, and the rest of the building houses several PeaceHealth departments, including a 70,000-square-foot central warehouse, a mail room and copy center, patient financial services, property management, transcription and Sacred Heart Foundation.

"It's been a great fit," OML CEO Ran Whitehead said recently.

The new facility is the latest evolution for OML, whose roots in Eugene date back to 1932. PeaceHealth has wholly owned the business since 2000.

Today, OML is the largest medical and drug-testing lab in Oregon.

Last year, the round-the-clock operation conducted more than 7 million tests, from routine blood tests to sophisticated DNA analyses to determine a person's predisposition to disease.

OML's new space, which is double the size of its existing space in downtown Eugene, enables OML to improve its work flow and processes, Whitehead said. PeaceHealth is spending $2 million on automated equipment that will increase volume, efficiency, accuracy and turnaround time, he said. The equipment also will reduce OML's long-term labor needs, with machines taking over the more mundane tasks, Whitehead said.

Some equipment, such as a 16-foot-long automated specimen processing system, was so large that it wouldn't have fit in OML's space in downtown Eugene.

The new building is called RiverBend Annex due to its proximity to the new Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend. PeaceHealth is building the hospital less than a half-mile south of the annex.

Of OML's 440 employees, 380 will move to RiverBend Annex and 60 will stay at the lab on Hilyard Street, Whitehead said. About 80 OML administrative employees moved to Springfield in July, and another 300 will join them this week, he said.

Like many medical testing labs across the country, OML has enjoyed steady growth of 6 percent to 9 percent a year for the past five years, and expects continued growth at that level for the next decade, Whitehead said.

The aging population and new molecular and genetic testing technologies are driving that trend, he said.

OML is a regional lab, performing medical tests for patients in Alaska, Washington and Oregon, and drug testing for clients nationwide.

OML's primary market is Central and Southern Oregon, but it is expanding its reach to maintain the high volume needed to make its new investment in lab and equipment pay off.

It has its sights on the Portland-area market, home to roughly half of the state's population.

Next month, OML plans to open an eight-employee lab in Portland - its first for the area.

"When you do tests on humans, you have to go where the humans are," Whitehead said.

CAPTION(S):

Medical technologist Ann Miller tests equipment at Oregon Medical Labs, which is moving operations from Eugene to Springfield.
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Title Annotation:Health; Oregon Medical Labs technicians spread out in space where Sony once pumped out CDs
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Jan 8, 2006
Words:661
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