ST. LOUIS — A major global seed producer has decided to establish its North American headquarters in St. Louis.

The German company KWS recently announced it will occupy a space at the Donald Danforth Science Center’s BioResearch and Development Growth facility. While its biggest seed crop is sugar beets, it also is an increasingly large player in corn, with subsidiaries AgReliant and AgriGold.

KWS is among the top 10 largest seed breeders in the world, with annual sales of about $1 billion.

“If you’re a sugar beet farmer, these guys are the dominant player and have been for years,” said Sam Fiorello, president of BRDG Park and chief operating officer of the Danforth Center. “They’re a big player in corn now in North America.”

The company has been courted by the center and by St. Louis government officials for nearly 18 months, as KWS considered a location for its North American headquarters. A list of 15 sites eventually was narrowed to four: Boston, San Francisco, the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina and St. Louis.

The BRDG facility and the region’s concentration of ag scientists helped convince the company that the Midwestern city was the ideal location.

“They were looking at proximity to customers, access to some of the best plant science, access to critical core facilities like growth rooms and growth chambers and greenhouses and things like that,” said Fiorello, who was instrumental in helping bring the company here. “We have an innovative climate, not just for ag companies but for other innovation. We set out to convince them that of the four sites we would be the best.”

Danforth Center

The Danforth Center is the largest nonprofit plant science center in the world. Open since 2001, it has a $20 million annual operating budget and employs 200 scientists.

In 2009, BRDG Park was created on the Danforth campus to spur innovation and house independent companies committed to plant science.

There is a lot to offer to companies such as KWS, Fiorello said in an interview with AgriNews .

“Our region has more plant scientists than anywhere in the world — 750,” he said. “We are in the agricultural breadbasket of the United States. The Danforth Center has a whole host of core facilities like greenhouses, growth rooms and chambers, and tissue cultures that we make available to tenants of BRDG Park. We also have a very collaborative spirit.”

The Danforth Center consists of 40 acres in suburban St. Louis, in the city of Creve Couer. Nine of those acres were committed to BRDG Park, with KWS becoming one of 16 companies occupying space there.

The center partnered with real estate developer Wexford Science & Technology to construct the four-floor BRDG Park facility and lease the space to tenants. The Danforth Center receives a portion of the leases.

Ironically, the move puts the KWS facility literally across the street from the global headquarters of sometime-competitor Monsanto. Monsanto was among entities donating money to help establish the Danforth Center.

“It’s doubled-edged,” Fiorello said. “They’re a major partner of Monsanto’s in many areas and a major competitor in other areas. The compelling value proposition helped them make this decision.

“They’re going to have data mining here, along with research and some development. They have breeding stations and field stations throughout the United States and the world. Their big growth crop is corn. They’re close to some of their partners. They’re closer to their customers. It’s a smart move.”

Fiorello said the KWS move helps cement St. Louis’ reputation as a leading agricultural science center in the U.S.

“I think this is third-party, smart-money validation that we have a world-class value proposition,” he said.

“We have things that unique and compelling that can’t be replicated. There are other places that have terrific offerings, but for KWS and other companies we’re talking with now, we’re going to be a very strong contender. I hope to see our park grow.”