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    Sunday, May 19, 2024

    What’s Going On: Pfizer putting $20 million-plus into local renovations

    FILE- A Pfizer logo is shown at their global supply Kalamazoo manufacturing plant in Portage, Mich., on Dec. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

    Maybe the sky isn’t falling after all.

    Dispelling rumors that Pfizer Inc. is continuing to pull back investments at its 160-acre site in Groton, the company has recently unveiled plans to renovate or add to six of its campus buildings off Eastern Point Road.

    Groton City Mayor Keith Hedrick, during a Greater Mystic and Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce event earlier this month, listed more than $25 million in new investments Pfizer has proposed that are either already permitted or currently awaiting approvals.

    Projects in the pipeline include an $8 million renovation of labs and office space at Building 156; a $7.5 million office renovation at Building 200, and $10 million for lab and workplace upgrades at Building 274.

    In addition, already permitted projects will see a 15,000-square-foot addition to a warehouse area at Building 100 where small-scale pharmaceutical production is located, plus renovations at labs in Building 257 and to empty office space at Building 296 where data and server labs will be installed, according to a PowerPoint slide at the City of Groton website. The City of Groton building permit site confirmed these projects.

    “This is just business as usual for us, and we don’t comment on specific projects at this level,” said Pfizer spokesman Steven Danehy in an email response to questions.

    But local officials are understandably thrilled that the pharmaceutical giant, which once employed about 8,000 locally at the height of its merger madness with such companies as Warner Lambert and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, is putting money into laboratory and data-analysis space that is key to the company’s future as a center for excellence in drug R&D.

    “It was good to hear,” said Tony Sheridan, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, in a phone interview. “What’s important about these high-end companies ... it’s not just about the job and their contributions to the company, there’s a huge value to their service on boards and agencies in the region.”

    “Pfizer’s here to stay,” said Bruce Flax, president of the Mystic chamber, quoting Hedrick. “It lends stability to the region.”

    “This is good news,” said state Rep. Aundré Bumgardner, D-Groton. “I don’t think they’re going anywhere.”

    And that has been the concern for a while now after Pfizer moved its drug-discovery personnel locally to the Boston area while shuttering the building in New London where its Worldwide Research Headquarters had been located for nearly a decade. That building, which cost nearly $300 million to construct, was later sold to Electric Boat for about $55 million.

    Concerns gained traction over the past decade as Pfizer took down several structures, including its massive former research headquarters known as Building 118, despite efforts by local and state politicians to persuade the company to save it and reports of a potential buyer. And there have been constant reports of layoffs, both big and small at the Groton site, some of which the company has confirmed even as it refuses to give out current census numbers that it routinely reported in the past (best guess: about 2,500 direct employees currently).

    Just a few months ago, we also were able to confirm that Pfizer had put up for sale about 3 acres of vacant property near its campus. The land had once contained several homes used as residences by Pfizer personnel.

    Clearly, Pfizer is not in an expansion mode, especially considering the company is in the midst of a $3.5 billion downsizing worldwide. But it’s good to know it likely isn’t going to wither away anytime soon, either, despite the company’s retrenchment after posting disappointing numbers on its COVID-19 medications.

    The company’s stock may have dropped nearly 40% over the past year, but Pfizer is still investing in Groton. Just keep in mind that Pfizer walked away from New London with a paper loss of nearly $250 million, so the company has proven it can swivel its direction on a dime, money be damned.

    But I think it’s safe to conclude investments in the millions will certainly buy the region another few years of groundbreaking drugs coming out of Groton.

    Lee Howard is The Day’s business editor. To reach him, email l.howard@theday.com.

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