Jacksonville-Based Vistakon OK'd for $12 Million Expansion


Jacksonville-based Vistakon, the Johnson & Johnson Vision Care division that makes the Acuvue brand of disposal contact lenses, is expanding with an almost $12 million addition to its distribution center and a remodeled breakroom at its Southside campus.

The City approved two permits Tuesday for Vistakon. The two-story, 104,454-square-foot distribution center expansion carries a construction cost of $11.6 million and the remodeled breakroom and new entry lobby, at 2,800 square feet, has a project cost of $365,000.

Danis Building Construction is the contractor for the projects.

Meanwhile, Danis also is renovating a 34,000-square-foot building that formerly housed SuperStock for use by Vistakon as administrative space. The City approved that $1.355 million construction project in January. Another permit calls for $77,000 in interior demolition work.

Vistakon is based at 7500 Centurion Parkway in the Deerwood Park office center at Southside and Butler boulevards. The SuperStock building is at 7660 Centurion Parkway.

Dave Brown, Johnson & Johnson Vision Care Inc.'s president of the Americas, said recently, after a keynote speech to the JAXUSA Partnership division of the JAX Chamber, that Vistakon continues to expand.

"Over the years, we have gradually grown and along with that comes the need for more space," Brown said. "When there are opportunities in the area, we're always interested in looking."

The move to the former SuperStock building, where he will be located, is expected in the second quarter. "We expect it to be state of the art," he said.

That permit application shows renovations to 18,447 square feet on the first floor and 15,007 square feet on the second floor.

First-floor plans show an auditorium, sales areas, commercial operations, conference space, finance and information technology offices and a collaboration video area. Second-floor plans show a marketing area, executive office areas, a boardroom, conference areas, multipurpose space and other uses.

It also shows space for ODLean, whose website, odlean.com, says it is part of The Vision Care Institute, a limited liability company in the Johnson & Johnson family of companies. Its consulting services address optometric practices, from glasses to medical to staff and cash flow.

Vistakon now operates a 661,174 square-foot facility in Deerwood Park. The Jacksonville campus consists of office, research, laboratory, manufacturing and distribution areas.

Spokeswoman Betsy McNiel, manager of global communications and PR for Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, has said the additional space will be used to meet growing capacity requirements, but won't generate a lot of new jobs.

"No significant increase in hiring is expected for the distribution center," McNiel said.

Vistakon also has been leasing other area space for its functions as it expands.

Another state-of-art manufacturing facility is in Limerick, Ireland.

The expansion boosts its presence in Jacksonville on the 68.87-acre complex. The project engineer is ETM and the architect is RS&H.

The JNJvisioncare.com website outlines Vistakon's history.

According to the site, what ultimately became known as Acuvue Brand Contact Lenses were first manufactured at Frontier Contact Lens Company in Buffalo, N.Y., in the 1950s.

As Frontier grew, it opened a branch in Jacksonville and was headed by Seymour Marco, an optometrist with significant experience fitting what were then hard contact lenses.

The site said that after a few years, Marco bought out Frontier's owners and grew the business dramatically.

"During the 1970s, Marco developed a new hydrogel material, etafilcon A, and Frontier began making soft contact lenses. In 1981, his health failing, Marco sold Frontier to Johnson & Johnson," it said.

Johnson & Johnson renamed the company Vistakon, acquiring "an exceedingly manual manufacturing process."

Vistakon then implemented "a major overhaul in its production lines, facilities and staff," creating a new method that allowed Vistakon to increase production from 100,000 contact lenses a day to 1 million lenses a day.

In 1987, it launched ACUVUE, the first seven-day extended wear disposable contact lens.

Production and products continued to evolve and today the company makes millions of lenses daily. According to the website, the production process has been "miniaturized and nearly fully automated, with advanced robotic technologies that enable more lenses to be produced more quickly."

Brown and Vistakon also have been in view of Gov. Rick Scott. Scott used the Vistakon property as his site to announce his manufacturing sales tax break legislation and Brown attended Scott's "State of the State" address in Tallahassee to the Florida Legislature.

At the JAXUSA Partnership event, Brown discussed the history and global reach of the company.

He said Acuvue is the No. 1 contact lens brand in the world and that the company also is an innovator in education with The Vision Care Institute, which provides instruction to current and future eye doctors about vision diagnostic and treatment technologies.

According to the JAX Chamber, Brown was recruited by Johnson & Johnson in 1990. In 2009, Brown was appointed president of the Americas group.

"In that year, the company faced flat sales as a result of the economic downturn in the U.S. Brown reorganized the company, reset priorities and created a culture where the $1 billion-plus company has exceeded growth expectations," said the chamber.

In brief, Brown presented information that:

  • Johnson & Johnson, based in New Brunswick, N.J., has revenue of $65 billion over the three sectors; its products are sold in 175 countries; it has more than 127,000 employees worldwide among more than 275 operating companies; and that 1 billion people use Johnson & Johnson products every day.
  • The Vision Care Institute's first location was in 2004 in Jacksonville and it now has 19 locations worldwide and 90,000 eye-care professionals have trained with it.
  • He discussed ways to encourage business growth in Florida, including the potential passage of Scott's sales tax break proposal, and cited a Johnson & Johnson Vision Care initiative, the Florida Center for Manufacturing, a consortium for government and industry to improve the industry's workforce and opportunities.
  • Johnson & Johnson Vision Care sells $3 billion of Acuvue brand contact lenses a year globally and has 4,100 employees worldwide, including 1,800 in Jacksonville. The other manufacturing plant is in Limerick, Ireland.

Karen Mathis
Daily Record