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Pfizer shut down is a bitter pill to swallow for Bklyn

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From Pfizer’s doomed Brooklyn drug manufacturing facility could one day rise affordable housing and stores, company officials said this week. “We will work with the community and government officials to find a solution—and that includes retail space and affordable housing,” Bill Barberich, the site leader of the South Williamsburg factory told this paper. On Monday, Pfizer announced its intention to shutter the Brooklyn factory from where it rose to become a giant of the pharmaceutical industry. The 580,000-square-foot plant, located at 630 Flushing Avenue in South Williamsburg, will be closed in stages. The plant, which opened in 1946, is located where the company was founded in 1849 by the German cousins Charles Pfizer and Charles Erhart. The plant produces a number of medicines, including Diflucan, Zoloft and Zyrtec. Six hundred workers will be left jobless by the cost-cutting move, which also includes the closing of a plant in Michigan and one in Nebraska. Asked about the possibility of housing or retail uses, Pfizer spokesperson Brant Haskins said, “We certainly are interested in looking at an affordable housing component.” “Affordable housing is certainly a need in the community,” Haskins added. He said it was too early to know whether Pfizer would retain ownership of the land. “I would assume anything is a possibility at this point.” A rezoning will be required to allow the legal construction of housing, as the property sits in an area zoned for manufacturing use. Overall, 10,000 jobs will be lost in an effort to cut annual costs by $2 billion by the end of 2008, according to Pfizer. “These and other actions will allow us to reduce costs in support services and ‘bricks and mortar’ and to redeploy hundreds of millions of dollars into the discovery and development work of our scientists,” Dr. John LaMattina, head of Pfizer Global Research and Development, said in a statement. The company said it will do everything it can to offer support and benefits to all colleagues affected by these cuts. “These are, of course, complex issues where we must balance many different considerations, and they are, without doubt, among the most difficult decisions we have to make,” said Pfizer Chief executive Jeffrey Kindler. “We have thought long and hard about these steps, because we are acutely aware of their impact on colleagues and the communities where we are located.” Barberich, a Long Island resident who has been at the Brooklyn plant for 16 years, said the news was not totally unexpected. “The site had gone through a restructuring and a decline in volume,” he said. Some of the plant’s workers could find work elsewhere in the firm’s global network, while others would receive “comprehensive severance packages,” Barberich said. Haskins attributed the plant’s closing to three factors, including: declining product volumes “resulting from the loss of patent exclusivity of some of the company’s larger products, increasing production costs, and a changing product mix that will require new manufacturing technology influenced the decision to close the Brooklyn plant.” The antidepressant Zoloft recently went off patent, and patent protection on the cholesterol reducer Lipitor—a drug which accounts for almost half the company’s profit—will be lost after 2011. Barberich said the company’s product portfolio is changing. Where once the company put out products in solid dose form, such as capsules and tablets—which are produced at the Brooklyn plant—it will, in the future, produce different dosage forms, such as specialized inhalers, which require specialized technology to produce. Barberich said company officials weighed whether to downsize the Brooklyn plant or to retrofit the facility with new technology, but decided not to install technology that exists in other Pfizer facilities. Once the Brooklyn plant closes, the nearest plant will be located in Connecticut. Brooklyn Borough president Marty Markowitz said he was “profoundly disappointed” by the news. “Apparently market forces have trumped history and local roots, and another piece of our city’s industrial heart and soul will be lost,” the borough’s top boss said. “Considering the company was founded here, employed generations of hard-working residents here, and even recently touted its Brooklyn roots in an advertising campaign, Brooklynites are saddened to learn that extra measures weren’t taken by Pfizer to preserve the plant and its jobs at this site.” Markowitz said he planned to work with Pfizer and the city to ensure that “every available resource is utilized to assist employees affected by this decision in finding new employment and making a smooth transition to the endeavor they choose, especially regarding health or retirement benefits.” Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce Interim President Mark Kessler called the closing “a major loss for Brooklyn and its residents.”

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