Published February 11. 2013 4:00AM Updated February 11. 2013 1:04PM
Pfizer Inc. has quietly cut hundreds of jobs at its Groton laboratories over the past year, leaving a workforce that is slightly smaller than what the pharmaceutical giant projected as it announced a downsizing of 1,100 positions two years ago.
Pfizer had 4,500 employees - mostly scientists - at its Groton and New London campuses two years ago, when the New York-based company announced a major downsizing that would cut the local workforce to slightly less than 3,400. By June of last year, Pfizer reported that reductions were well under way, with about 3,700 employees remaining on the Groton campus.
Pfizer's response to a request last week for an update on the local jobs number initially indicated there were now slightly fewer than 3,150 Pfizer employees at the company's consolidated site in Groton - 250 fewer than had been anticipated when the local downsizing was announced. The company later amended the number, however, saying the initial report had neglected to count some personnel, and Pfizer gave a new census of about 3,300 employees, only a hundred less than what had been projected.
"There are no further planned reductions," said Lauren Starr, a Pfizer spokeswoman. "Groton is of central importance to the company."
The campus off Eastern Point Road became the company's sole local presence after the sale of the New London office complex - Pfizer's former worldwide R&D headquarters - to Electric Boat two years ago.
John Beauregard, executive director of the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board, said any job reductions by Pfizer mean additional cuts elsewhere in the labor force. He pointed out, however, that projected job increases at Electric Boat - numbering at least 300 in the early part of this year - will help compensate for any losses at Pfizer, assuming the drug company's downsizing levels off.
The Norwich-New London area, which includes Westerly, has been one of the hardest hit regions in the nation in terms of jobs recovery since the Great Recession ended in 2009. While most the rest of the state - and the nation - had reached a low point in jobs by early 2010, Beauregard said, this region didn't see the trough until August 2012, just a few months ago.
"We are continuing as an area to struggle to recover the number of jobs lost during the recession," Beauregard said.
Pfizer has indicated in financial statements that it was planning another $1.3 billion in R&D budget cuts this year, according to the industry blog FiercePharma, after reducing research spending by a similar amount last year. The most recent Pfizer cuts involve a clinical research program in Singapore announced just last week, according to The Business Times.
But Pfizer gave assurances that the company's transition of many local scientists to the Boston area is now complete and that reductions have now leveled off.
The company, in the midst of a worldwide downsizing over the past few years after it completed a series of megamergers and tried to compensate for the loss of patent protections for blockbuster medicines, had a local presence of about 6,000 just a few years ago. But a phase-out of Groton's manufacturing capability, the layoff of 500 local scientists related to Pfizer's acquisition of Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, a decision to get out of the antibiotics-discovery business and the move of the local lab's drug-discovery scientists to Cambridge, Mass., has inevitably whittled away at jobs numbers.
"They've been pretty secretive and pretty methodical about laying people off," said state Rep. Ted Moukawsher, D-Groton.
According to Pfizer, however, the job numbers they mentioned two years ago were simply projections. Through attrition and a variety of other factors, a spokeswoman said, the numbers are down slightly from what the company expected.
"Things have settled down there significantly," said Tony Sheridan, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut. "They're here to stay."
No public announcements about further job reductions below 3,400 were ever made, though Pfizer at one point last year did acknowledge a planned move this year of Groton's surveillance testing group to Singapore, which was to result in about 20 fewer local positions not originally counted in the company's job-cut plans.
Pfizer also announced last year that it would be starting to use two contract research organizations - outside groups brought in to conduct basic scientific studies - as it continued a worldwide downsizing. But a Pfizer spokeswoman said the increased use of these research firms, Boston-based PAREXEL International Corp. and Dublin-based ICON plc., was simply a streamlining of its use of outside firms and did not have any effect on local employment figures.
As scientists made the move out of Groton, Pfizer has been trying to market several of its buildings off Eastern Point Road for sale or lease, including the massive former R&D headquarters known as Building 118. The state has reported significant interest in the building, but so far no agreement has been announced.
Pfizer, which had begun clearing the way for a possible demolition of the building, has yet to obtain a permit, according to city Mayor Marian Galbraith.