Bayer to close Emeryville plant, cut 540 jobs

May 26, 2011 8:04:24 PM PDT
The small East Bay city of Emeryville, home to Pixar Animation and several biotech research and production companies, has been handed a blow that dashes hope of an economic turnaround in this region of the Bay Area.

Bayer HealthCare is phasing out its manufacturing facility on Hollis Street. That will mean the loss of 540 jobs over the next two years. The plant makes Betaseron, an injectable drug for the treatment of multiple sclerosis. Production will shift over the next two years to contract plants in Germany and Austria.

Employees are attending small group meetings Thursday and Friday with managers to go over severance details and other benefits the company will provide laid off workers. Security officers at the plant prevented us from talking to employees.

A company spokesman at Bayer's Berkeley offices said the company remains committed to the Bay Area. It operates another manufacturing facility in Berkeley that is undergoing a $100 million upgrade to make Bayer's new hemophilia drug. Employees at the Emeryville facility will be offered the opportunity to apply for jobs at the Berkeley plant. They will also receive job training and counseling assistance. The company will also provide retention bonuses to keep the plant going until it closes completely in two years.

While only 15 employees live in Emeryville, a major job loss impacts the city's economy. Economic development director Helen Bean is optimistic another company will take over the plant.

"We have a very low vacancy rate right now in our biotech industrial laboratory space," said Bean. "It's 1 percent."

The president of BayBio, the biotech industry association, thinks the laid-off Bayer workers could find manufacturing jobs in related biotech fields, perhaps even in the same plant.

"We have a lot of companies in the Bay Area that are focused on biologics and that are moving their products forward and looking for manufacturing," said BayBio president Gail Maderis. "So this may be an opportunity, actually, to keep manufacturing in the Bay Area with an existing facility."

Even though the long-term outlook for the biomedical field is rosy, it doesn't mean the jobs for manufacturing will stay in the Bay Area. Even Bayer points out when it develops a new drug, its company has to bid against outside contractors to see who can deliver them at the lowest cost. Those jobs may be either outside the area or even overseas.


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