Northeast Laboratory Services is one of a few businesses in the area that expanded during the last year, and the reason has more to do with storage space for vials than anything directly related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Winslow-based life sciences company recently secured a three-year contract to manufacture a product for Animal Health Market that will help maintain and continue the company’s vial department.

“This has been years in the making,” Northeast Laboratory Services CEO and President Beau Mears said Monday. “We now have the capability to buy enough of the supply that we’re going to need without running out.”

The new contract helped trigger the expansion of the nearly 50-year-old company’s Winslow headquarters located at 227 China Road. Northeast Laboratory Services added the warehouse with 6,400 square feet of floor space and a new loading dock. The company also purchased new vial filling equipment that runs three-times faster than what it has now. Current laboratory space being used for water testing services is under renovation.

The expansion cost a total of $753,000, according to the company’s application for expansion with the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.

Melissa Higgins, Northeast Laboratory’s vice president and chief financial officer, said the company had used a storage facility for vials at Pro Movers on College Avenue for approximately six months. They also filled a trailer in the back of the warehouse.

“You have to think about the logistics, and taking your time and people to go across town, it makes it that much more efficient to have those items on site,” Higgins said. “Just for the sake of feasibility, having one item that we would call over as needed is what worked best.”

Now with the expansion, those logistical challenges are nullified. The vials are at hand.

In the application for expansion, the company expected to add at least four employees. All four positions have been filled and more positions may be posted. The company “always has openings for manufacturing positions,” Higgins said.

Northeast Laboratory Services negotiated the contract with Animal Health Market prior to the pandemic. They had an uptick in business when many of the company’s West Coast competitors were slowed down by the pandemic. Sales of common prepared-culture media items, such as the plate where a strep throat culture identifies bacteriarose. In addition, the company manufactured tubes of transport media for COVID-19 testing, but not as much as initially anticipated.

“The only thing that COVID really did was delay our shipments of raw materials that we needed from suppliers,” Mears said. Many of the materials come from China. Shipments that normally took weeks took months. Orders were placed nine months ahead of time. “Without a warehouse, it would’ve been impossible.”

Sabrina Gormley, account executive at Northeast Laboratory, said one of the challenges of the pandemic came in finding raw materials. Buying in bulk helped alleviate that, but made the expansion necessary. The increased space helps when acquiring shipments. Raw materials play into both the analytical and manufacturing divisions.

“It allows us to bring in all of those raw materials that we would otherwise potentially have to find another place to store them,” Gormley said. “It allows us to have easy access to those materials.”

Founded in 1972 as Maine Poultry Consultants, Northeast Laboratory Services changed its name after the decline of the poultry business. The company merged with Portland-based research and development firm Binax Inc. in 1997. In 2001, Northeast Laboratory Services was purchased back by its original founders, Mears and Dr. Kenneth Eskelund. The company is an accredited, full-service laboratory with its Winslow headquarters and a satellite location in Westbrook.

Ian Guite of Northeast Laboratory Services in Winslow works Tuesday with equipment that tests water for 20 different types of metals. The business recently expanded its warehouse with a 6,400-square-foot building and loading dock. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

The company employs 73 full- and part-time laboratory technicians in the two locations, as well as support service personnel and administrators. The chemistry, microbiology and media manufacturing laboratories, along with administrative offices, are located at the Winslow facility. The Westbrook facility houses food microbiology, indoor air quality, radon and asbestos laboratories.

The pandemic has shuttered opportunities for nationwide conferences, such as the American Society for Microbiologists and American Indoor Air Quality Conference. The biggest customers for the company include hospitals and pharmaceutical companies such as COVID-19 vaccine makers Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.

Mears said the company has added something to the headquarters just about every year. The building is more than 50 years old. Rumor has it, it served as an old ski factory before Northeast Laboratory Services took over.

“Going forward, I do hope things will get better for the business once we get out and visit again,” Mears said. “I would hope that our leg up comes from the hard-working people here in the company.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.