LEE With the majority of the financing for its $20 million expansion plan secured last month, Berkshire Sterile Manufacturing has already begun hiring new employees that will be added because of the growth.

Berkshire Sterile, which produces sterile, injectable drugs for pharmaceutical and biotech companies that currently are in clinical studies for the treatment of various diseases, is planning to add 75 new employees by the end of next year to its its current 159-member workforce.

In applying for a tax increment financing package from the town of Lee, the company originally told officials that they planned to hire 60 new workers. But CEO Shawn Kinney said Wednesday the number would likely be higher.

"I always like to be conservative. I'd rather over-deliver than fall a little bit short," he said."We'll hire whatever we end up needing. I believe it will be about 75 people."

With the expansion project, Berkshire Sterile is planning to double the size of its existing clean room, and add a state-of-the art manufacturing line at the 116,000-square-foot Lee Corporate Center on Pleasant Street, a former toy company warehouse that the firm's three owners purchased when they started the company in 2014. The new production line will be the first of its kind in the United States and possibly the world, Kinney has said, and will be capable of filling up to 70,000 units per lot.

"We're hiring now because the ramp-up is going to be kind of slow," Kinney said. "There's a lot of activities that have to happen up to the point in time that this new equipment gets delivered and we actually get it into use."

A new inspection area, warehouse, office areas, and increased laboratory space are also part of the expansion. Berkshire Sterile has ordered about $8 million of new equipment so far.

"The equipment is being staged in slowly and should be fully completed by the end of 2021," said Kinney. He has previously told The Eagle the new facility is expected to be operational by the first quarter of 2022.

In early June, Berkshire Sterile secured $16.5 million in financing from both Berkshire Bank and Lee Bank toward the expansion project. Berkshire Sterile is also expected to receive a $1.5 million tax increment finance package from the town of Lee. The tax package requires approval at town meeting, which has been postponed twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and is now scheduled to be held at a date to be determined, according to a notice on the town's website.

But in April, the Massachusetts Business Development Agency and the state's Economic Assistance Coordinating Council gave Berkshire Sterile provisional approval to move forward with the expansion, which allowed the company to begin purchasing equipment associated with the project now.

In a news release, Berkshire Sterile stated the new positions will all be "high paying jobs." Both Kinney and Berkshire Sterile recruiter James Donnelly said the new jobs contain some senior management positions and all come with salaries above the company's beginning wage of $17 per hour.

"All of the positions I've mentioned are well above that salary," Kinney said.

Unlike some county companies, Berkshire Sterile has a had a lot of success hiring locally. Of the company's 159 current employees, roughly 120 are from the Berkshires, with 44 from Pittsfield, "our largest town by far," Kinney said. Twenty-six of the remaining employees live in either Connecticut or New York, while the rest reside in the Springfield area.

Kinney said he's pleased with the number of Berkshire employees "given that we weren't here at all" six years ago.

Since the pandemic began to effect the U.S. in March, Berkshire Sterile has been testing material for different pharmaceutical companies who have been developing medications to combat COVID-19. Kinney declined to identity those companies based on the confidentiality agreements that Berkshire Sterile has with these firms. During March and April, the company paid employees up to triple their hourly wage to work overtime so they could produce six unique COVID-19 treatments as quickly as possible.

"These are not vaccines or cures to prevent COVID-19, but treatments for people who get COVID and develop pneumonia in the later stages," he said.

Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-281-2755.