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Can Sandwich learn from Pfizer's US laboratory closure?

By Mark Norman
BBC South East Business Correspondent


Advice from US executives from the Pfizer site which closed four years ago

In February, Sandwich was hit by the news that Pfizer was to close its research plant with the loss of over 2,000 hi-tech jobs.

This closure is almost a repeat of what happened in the USA four years ago, where the company sold its facility in Ann Arbor to the nearby University of Michigan.

BBC business correspondent Mark Norman has investigated what lessons could be learnt from Ann Arbor and how it might help Sandwich.

The closure of Ann Arbor

In 2007, Pfizer closed their iconic laboratories in the city of Ann Arbor to the west of Detroit. Going were state-of-the-art research facilities, more than 2,000 scientists and millions of dollars of investment in the community.

Ann Arbor
Pfizer sold Ann Arbor to the University of Michigan

Ann Arbor's business community did not waste any time.

As they said to me on my trip there last week: "If you are given lemons you make lemonade".

Within minutes of getting the news, four years ago, they were working on a plan.

They wanted skilled workers to stay locally. They set about offering Pfizer scientists loans, work space and help with everything from employing staff to getting free lab equipment from Pfizer.

I was told that once the company had made the decision to go, getting the best price for the site was not their priority.

In the end the Ann Arbor facility was valued at around $800m but they sold it to the University of Michigan for a little over $100m.

They offered free and cut price equipment to any former staff members who wanted to set up a life science company, and they offered local non-profit organisations that they had been supporting for years, a $1m fund to provide a legacy for the community.

Learning from Ann Arbor

Sandwich can learn lessons from the Ann Arbor experience.

Their advice is to act quickly, make sure the local business community is the driving force behind future plans, and push Pfizer for a good deal on the site on the equipment and on their legacy for the community.

However, I am concerned after my visit. There is a huge cultural difference between the US and the UK.

They believe in entrepreneurial spirit in a way we have not embraced in the UK and everyone pointed out that they are four years down the line.

They have had a difficult journey to get to where they are now.

Sandwich has a long way to go.

Pfizer bosses questioned by MPs
28 Feb 11 |  Kent
Uni to consider Pfizer proposal
03 Feb 11 |  Kent
Pfizer's proud history in Kent
02 Feb 11 |  England
Pfizer to close UK research site
03 Feb 11 |  Business


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