Vets First Choice has received city approval to begin construction on a new headquarters in downtown Portland to support the company’s rapid growth and expansion.

On Tuesday night, the Portland Planning Board approved a site plan for the 170,000-square-foot facility, which will feature space for more than 1,500 employees including offices, a pharmacy, a fulfillment center and software and data science labs.

“We expect to add more than 1,000 new high-quality jobs in southern Maine and believe this downtown location will be critical towards attracting world-class talent,” Vets First co-founder and CEO Benjamin Shaw said in a news release.

The project, at 12 Mountfort St., represents a major milestone for Vets First as the company looks to establish an even larger presence in the region and accommodate the significant growth it has experienced over the past few years.

Vets First has said the facility also would serve as the headquarters for a planned new company that would be created when it merges with the animal health division of Henry Schein Inc. of Melville, New York, which would be spun off as its own publicly traded company late this year or in early 2019.

The new company, with roughly $3.6 billion in combined revenue in 2017 and more than 5,000 employees, would continue to operate out of existing Vets First and Henry Schein locations throughout the world, it said.

Pet owners have increased their spending on supplies and over-the-counter medications for their pets in recent years, but local veterinary clinics have seen their share of that revenue shrink as more customers have turned to online retailers such as PetMeds and Amazon for medications and other supplies.

Vets First Choice seeks to solve that problem by offering outsourced online pharmacy services to veterinarians, allowing the vet to retain local customers while competing on price with online suppliers. From pet owners’ point of view, the online store appears to be operated by their local vet, but it’s actually Vets First that is filling and shipping the orders.

Vets First Choice plans to start building its new headquarters immediately and finish by April 2020. Rendering courtesy Vets First Choice

That business model has allowed Vets First Choice to grow quickly. The company, founded in 2010, already provides technology and support services to more than 20,000 veterinary practices.

The new headquarters would create hundreds of new jobs for Maine residents in areas such as software development and pharmaceuticals, the company said. Vets First said it plans to collaborate with the University of New England College of Pharmacy for residency, training and development programs.

Construction on the headquarters will begin immediately, the company said. The project will be built in two phases, with the pharmacy and fulfillment center expected to be completed in October 2019, and the remainder of the project expected to be completed by April 2020.

“On behalf of the Vets First Choice organization, I want to express how exciting this is for us to build our new headquarters in downtown Portland,” said David Shaw, co-founder and chairman of Vets First. “I’ve been a part of the Portland business community for the past 30 years and I’ve watched our great city evolve and grow. With this new building we’re making it clear we plan to evolve and grow with the city.”

David Shaw, father of Ben, founded veterinary diagnostic testing products company Idexx in 1983. The companies are part of a growing cluster of animal health businesses based in the Portland area.

A large part of Vets First project will be funded by the Maine Technology Asset Fund 2.0 in partnership with the Maine Technology Institute. Vets First was awarded a $9 million grant toward the cost of the project.

“The Vets First Choice building will be the first office building over 150,000 square feet built on the Portland peninsula in the last 25 years,” said Greg Boulos, senior partner of CBRE | The Boulos Co., which represented Vets First on the headquarters project. “Having a growing company like Vets First Choice in Portland is a huge win for everyone.”