The robots are coming. To Westborough.
Amazon on Wednesday will announce a big expansion of its robotics operation, leasing 350,000 square feet at a shuttered drug manufacturing plant in the MetroWest town. The company plans to spend $40 million upgrading a former AstraZeneca facility, where it expects to add about 200 workers over the next few years, designing, building, and testing robotics equipment.
The move will further cement Boston’s status as a robotics hub for the e-commerce giant, which bought North Reading’s Kiva Systems in 2012. That firm’s technology, which picks and sorts packages for faster delivery, has proved to be a key ingredient in the explosion of Amazon’s ever-more-automated logistics and distribution centers around the country, and the presence of what’s now called Amazon Robotics in Greater Boston has grown to several hundred employees.
“Amazon’s move to Westborough really validates the strength of the robotics cluster here,” said Mike Kennealy, the state economic development secretary. “It speaks volumes about the future of robotics in Massachusetts, to have a world-leading company double down on what they’ve already done in North Reading.”
Along with North Reading, Amazon Robotics already has a small office in Westborough with a few dozen workers. They will move to the old AstraZeneca plant on Otis Street off Route 9, next year, with the full plant set to open after renovations in 2021.
“This will be a world-class facility where our teams can design, build, program, and ship our robots, all under the same roof,” said Tye Brady, chief technologist at Amazon Robotics. “This expansion will allow us to continue to innovate quickly and improve delivery speed for customers around the world.”
It’ll also bring new life to a white elephant of the MetroWest.
The vast plant, with its distinctive three-story glass pyramid, has sat empty for nearly three years since AstraZeneca moved out at the end of 2016. The facility was long Westborough’s biggest taxpayer, and at its peak employed more than 800 people making Pulmicort, a childrens asthma medication, until the drugmaker consolidated production elsewhere.
After AstraZeneca left, Framingham’s Atlantic Management bought the 66-acre campus for $6.5 million and has been marketing it since. The deal with Amazon will fill about three-quarters of the space in the existing building.
Atlantic also co-owns the former NECCO candy plant in Revere where Amazon last month announced plans for an enormous “delivery station” to improve next-day and same-day delivery in Greater Boston. Amazon is also planning a nearly 4-million-square-foot fulfillment center in North Andover and is also constructing a 17-story office building in the Seaport District that will eventually employ about 2,000 tech workers. That’s on top of roughly 4,000 people already working for Amazon in Massachusetts today.
Amazon said it chose Westborough in part because of its ability to draw workers from across the state, along the Massachusetts Turnpike to the west and along Interstate-495 to both the north and south. The company will not seek tax incentives from either the state or the town.
Governor Charlie Baker touted the move as further validation of the state’s talented workforce and strong knowledge economy.
“Massachusetts is home to a nation-leading innovation economy with a highly educated and skilled workforce,” Baker said in a statement. “We are proud of the life-changing research and high quality of life that attracts leading companies to invest and grow here.”
Jon Chesto can be reached at Jon.Chesto@globe.com.