A major pharmaceutical facility planned for the Dunkirk area is beginning to take shape with substantive site work expected within the next couple of weeks.

“By mid-May, there’s going to be a lot of activity. Hundreds of workers, large equipment, ground moving equipment,” said Teresa Bair, vice president of corporate development for Athenex.

Local stakeholders are hoping the expansion of Athenex, a global company with its North American headquarters in Buffalo, will serve as a catalyst for a major economic transformation in the region.

“This is really an historic moment,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo, when the project was first announced in February 2016.

“It’s a game changer, and something like this doesn’t happen too often,” Cuomo added.

The State of New York is backing the Dunkirk project with a $200 million grant.

“Taxpayers and folks should know that the state is investing heavily, but also will own that building,” said Christopher Schoepflin, senior vice president of Western New York’s Empire State Development office.

Schoepflin said the state will essentially lease the building and property to Athenex.

Athenex has pledged to invest $1.5 billion in what’s being called a state-of-the-art, 320-thousand square foot facility.

The plant will be located off Lake Shore Drive East in the Town of Dunkirk, right near the city line.

“The property we chose in Dunkirk was just perfect for our facility. It was large enough, flat enough. It was open, and it gave us the ability to do exactly what we wanted to do,” said Bair, during a recent interview with News 4.

She said the company, which has a global footprint as well as operations in the United States, is focused on developing cancer treatments that are safer for patients.

“Our focus is improving the lives of cancer patients,” she said.

This is a big deal for the Dunkirk area which could use an economic shot in the arm, according to numerous community leaders.

“It’s very important,” said Town of Dunkirk Supervisor Richard Purol.

“Everybody kept saying, we’ll never see that. We’ll never see that. Well, I want the ground to start moving and I want to show them there it is. This is what we’ve been working on once a month for a couple of years now,” Purol said.

While the facility is technically located in the town, City of Dunkirk Mayor Willie Rosas expects a spillover effect from the project.

He said his office is already receiving outside inquiries.

“What we’re expecting is millions of dollars that are going to be coming into our community. Our tax base, we expect it to increase through businesses coming into town,” said Rosas.

“We expect the economic impact to be huge,” he said.

Athenex got its start in a University at Buffalo laboratory more than a decade ago. It has evolved into a publicly traded company with a promise to create hundreds of jobs for its Dunkirk operation.

“Within five years of the facility being fully operational, we’ll have about 450 people working for us as employees at that facility,” said Bair.

What’s more, the company expects an additional 450 indirect jobs needed to support the operation.

“This manufacturer is going to be creating lifesaving cancer drugs. It’s high-tech. It’s cutting edge, and so in order to get these drugs manufactured, it’s going to take people with a lot of skills, a lot of knowledge, and therefore I think the jobs will be high paying,” said State Senator Catharine Young, an Olean Republican.

Athenex officials says when construction of the building is complete in early 2019, an internal fit-out will begin. It’s a process that includes interior walls, ceilings, piping, ductwork and wiring, according to a written response by the company.

“After the interior is complete and equipment is installed, the validation process will take place including FDA inspection. We expect it to be validated, operating and manufacturing cancer drugs in mid-2020.”