Pfizer manufacturing in Richmond ending, R&D center saved

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Richmond economic development authorities entered tentative discussions earlier this year with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer about expanding its manufacturing facility in Henrico County. Instead, Pfizer decided to close the plant as part of a major restructuring.

However, state and local officials did put together enough incentives to convince Pfizer to keep its research and development center in Richmond, preserving another 300 jobs.

Pfizer, the world’s largest drug maker, is closing eight other plants in the U.S., Ireland and Puerto Rico.  Production at the Richmond facility, which makes ChapStick, Robitussin, Dimetapp and other over-the-counter products, will be phased out over the next few years and moved to other Pfizer plants. Five hundred fifty employees will be laid off if the plant is not sold.

The company is not cutting all local ties, however. Its Consumer Healthcare Product Development Center will remain in Richmond, and around 160 employees will continue to work in commercial operations, distribution and logistics.

Greg Wingfield, president and CEO of the Greater Richmond Partnership Inc. (GRP), a public-private economic development organization, says that in addition to lost jobs, the shutdown could hurt local suppliers and vendors.  “For every manufacturing job, there’s usually two other service-related jobs that are lost in a situation like this,” he says.

For this reason, GRP and local economic development groups are trying to find a company willing to buy the Pfizer plant and one or more of the product lines. “That would be the best scenario,” Wingfield says, noting that Pfizer also is pushing for a package sale. “You’ve got the work force in place, the machinery, the equipment. Everything could just go along like it had been previously but with a different label on the product.”

That scenario would also promote the continuity of a rich legacy. The plant has been producing over-the-counter health products for decades. It originally was owned by A.H. Robins, a longstanding Richmond company that developed Robitussin, ChapStick and other brands. The Robins family has been involved in many area philanthropic projects, especially at the University of Richmond. Wyeth, formerly known as American Home Products, purchased A.H. Robins in 1989. Pfizer acquired Wyeth last year.

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