Originally created 09/30/05

Pfizer to close Augusta plant



Pfizer Inc. will close its Augusta pharmaceutical plant in early 2006, citing a failed attempt to sell the facility as an ongoing operation, company officials announced Thursday.

The closing will eliminate more than 180 jobs.

"We've pulled out all the stops to market this plant," Pfizer spokesman Bryant Haskins said. "In the end, we were unfortunately unable to find a buyer."

During the past 14 months, the company sent out more than 10,000 brochures to market the plant, returned 1,000 telephone inquiries, signed 50 confidentially agreements with interested parties and gave 10 plant tours in hopes of finding a buyer.

Mr. Haskins said some of the potential buyers said the Lovers Lane facility was larger than they needed. Others chose to expand existing facilities instead of buying a new one, he said.

The company announced in July 2004 that it intended to find a buyer after determining it no longer needed Augusta's manufacturing facility.

The plant once produced the active ingredients for the arthritis drugs Bextra and Celebrex. It now makes ingredients for anti-bacteria and anti-arrythmic drugs and diuretics.

Pfizer acquired the plant in 2003, when it bought rival company Pharmacia. Pfizer has been reducing duplicate operations around the globe ever since. Mr. Haskins said the company wants to reduce its facilities from 93 to 69.

Employees at the 22-year-old facility include many "highly trained" engineers, Mr. Haskins said.

Employees will receive 13-week severance packages and three weeks of pay for each year of service. Mr. Haskins said some employees will have an opportunity to transfer to other company facilities.

Some employees could be out of work as early as November, but most layoffs would occur during the first quarter of 2006, he said.

The 30-acre plant is still on the market, though Pfizer hasn't decided whether to sell it as a "closed facility," with equipment included, or as empty manufacturing space.

Walter Sprouse, the executive director of the Development Authority of Richmond County, said the agency will continue marketing the property. Selling the property as a fully-operational facility was a tough task, he said.

"Economic development is difficult as it is. This is an extremely specialized company," he said.

The Georgia Department of Labor will provide help for the workers in filing for unemployment, conducting job searches and other services from its Augusta Career Center on Greene Street.

Reach Tony Lombardo at (706) 823-3227 or tony.lombardo@augustachronicle.com.

What's Next:

The first round of layoffs is expected to begin in November, with the bulk of job losses occurring in the first quarter of 2006. The company will continue marketing the property.