Pfizer Layoffs Are Opportunity For State

January 30, 2007
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Despite the doomsayers, it is difficult not to see and celebrate the silver lining in the announcement that Pfizer is freeing up a talented pool of life sciences workers, including the administrative assistants and service sector specialists who need not be schooled in such endeavors. The Business Journal has reported over and again the misgivings of economic analysts and business leaders concerned about attracting this talent pool to Michigan and especially West Michigan

Further incentive for Pfizer employees to stay is given by the Kalamazoo Promise, which pledges to pay the college or advanced training tuition of every Kalamazoo Public Schools graduate. There is no other place in the land making such a pledge to educate the offspring of this work force. That is likely to be the state's best incentive for retaining the displaced Pfizer employees. (And that fact should give the legislature incentive to fully fund public schools and other such opportunities in every district in the state.)

Heed the comments of Southwest Michigan First CEO Ronald Kitchens, who told the Business Journal there is great demand among existing life sciences companies in the region for people with skill in the pre-clinical phase of testing and efficacy. "Companies that are hiring people with these skill sets have to recruit nationally, so we believe there will be a job for everybody because these are the exact skill sets many companies want. We feel very comfortable that there's a good safety net under these folks."

Ann Arbor-based MichBio, the nonprofit trade association for life sciences dedicated to driving the growth of the industry in Michigan, jumped on Pfizer's announcement with much the same bravado. The day after the announcement MichBio had pledged to work with the governor, Michigan legislators and the displaced Pfizer employees. The group was not at all subtle in its advice to legislators "to ensure that legislative initiatives like the Michigan Business Tax are enacted and will visibly demonstrate a life sciences-friendly business environment." Executive Director Stephen T. Rapundalo noted, "We have a unique opportunity to retain the best and brightest in Michigan's life sciences workforce while preserving a vibrant life sciences industry."

MichBio, state and university representatives, as well as investors, are excited about the potential for new business creation and business ventures. We have witnessed innumerable startups in the aftermath of Herman Miller and Steelcase layoffs earlier in this decade, and through company consolidations or acquisitions — most notably in banking. The Pfizer layoff could domino to even greater potential for new technology and life sciences ventures.

Don Grimes, University of Michigan senior research specialist, noted his expectation that the layoffs in Ann Arbor would have a very severe impact related to Pfizer's community beneficence and said the drug company's presence helped make Ann Arbor a center for intellectual, private-sector research.

Private sector support? The strength of that is nowhere more evident than in the West Michigan community, from the Van Andel Institute to the incredible funding of the Kalamazoo Promise.

The alarm and misgivings may be misplaced, especially as one considers the immediate action and previous planning given to Pfizer's long-anticipated announcement of operation consolidations.    

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