Massereene base where two soldiers were murdered to become HQ of world-beating medical firm Randox... and home to 540 new staff
A home-grown medical firm is creating 540 new jobs as part of a massive £161m expansion - one of the biggest of its kind in recent years.
Randox is turning the former Massereene Army barracks in Antrim - once the scene of the brutal murders of two young soldiers - into a world-renowned diagnostics manufacturing centre.
The new Antrim facility will become the now Crumlin-based company's headquarters and primary site.
Already a world-leader in medical diagnosis tests, covering fertility, heart disease, cancer and sexual diseases, Randox aims to create a "futuristic" new manufacturing plant at the site.
It was a poignant moment yesterday for First Minister Peter Robinson, as he returned to Massereene for the first time since sappers Mark Quinsey and Patrick Azimkar were murdered by Real IRA gunmen in 2009.
"It was emotional, particularly as you pass by the gates and you see the floral tributes still remaining," he said.
"Nothing can ever replace those who have been lost, and the suffering that has and still is being caused, but to see something growing up from the ground, which will become a worldwide centre of excellence for healthcare diagnostics, it shows just how Northern Ireland is changing."
Salaries for the new posts, which include research and manufacturing jobs, will average around £30,000.
The development of Massereene will cost around £29m and the annual salaries of staff will be worth more than £16m to the local economy each year. Invest NI has provided almost £5m towards the new site.
Work is set to get under way soon on the new Randox Science Park, with jobs put in place over the next four years.
Headed up by founder Dr Peter Fitzgerald, the ever-expanding global firm will soon boast a workforce of around 1,300 in Northern Ireland, with a further 700 in offices across the globe.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the development was a "great news story" and called the new lease of life for the former military site a "transformation".
Both ministers say they are confident the firm will be able to recruit the bulk of the new workforce through Northern Ireland's own universities and further education colleges.
The move is the biggest single expansion Randox has undergone since its creation in 1982. The firm now diagnoses a remarkable one in 20 people around the globe and its technology has been used by 340 million people.
Randox makes in the region of 2,000 different products which are widely used across health and industry.
Some 200 staff, including those in manufacturing, will be moved from the company's current Crumlin base to the new site.
The huge former barracks covers almost 17 hectares and includes more than 37,000 sq metres of buildings and warehouse space. It was sold to Randox back in December 2013.
Speaking yesterday, Dr Fitzgerald said the new facility will be a "futuristic manufacturing plant, with increased capacity and efficiencies, as well as housing pioneering research and development labs".
"We are also seeking to recruit high-calibre staff across a range of disciplines to help us develop, produce and sell Randox's revolutionary diagnostic solutions, ensuring that individuals worldwide have access to timely and correct diagnosis," he said.
The company is optimistic that it can build even further on its reputation as one of Northern Ireland's biggest home-grown success stories.
Dr Fitzgerland revealed additional details of proposals for his latest property purchase at Runkerry, close to Bushmills.
He said plans were afoot to develop a "hospitality centre" for entertainment and business, primarily for overseas customers, bringing "higher value jobs" to the area.
The Runkerry site could also include an advanced medical testing facility, he added.
Formed in Crumlin in 1982, Randox Industries produces a range of medical tests and diagnostic equipment used in 140 countries and is one of the largest manufacturers of laboratory quality controls across the globe. The company had a turnover of £92m in the year ending 2013 and recently opened new offices in Durban, Dubai and Hong Kong.