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Leaders create Pfizer action teams, receive $1 million

Ann Arbor leaders, armed with more than 100 ideas and the help of government, private, nonprofit and U-M officials, are planning future opportunities for 2,100 talented Pfizer Inc. workers and their 177-acre research campus.
SPARK President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Finney, Gov. Jennifer Granholm and President Mary Sue Coleman listen as Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje answers a reporter's question. Local and state leaders met Jan. 29 to develop a strategy for retaining Pfizer workers, following the announcement a week earlier that the company plans to lay off 2,100 people in Ann Arbor and close its facility, located off of Plymouth Road. (Photo by Scott Galvin, U-M Photo Services)

Gov. Jennifer Granholm and community leaders announced Jan.29 the formation of the Pfizer Strategic Working Action Teams (SWAT) to aid displaced workers from the drug company's Ann Arbor campus. Granholm announced a $1 million commitment from the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth as the first step toward assisting dislocated workers.

"Although the departure of Pfizer is painful news, it is also true that a major change like this one can force all of us, including Pfizer employees, to take risks and try new ideas,'' President Mary Sue Coleman said at a press conference that followed a meeting of state and local leaders. "It is watershed moments like this one when leadership becomes critical."

Pfizer, the world's largest drug maker, announced Jan. 22 it would cut more than 2,100 jobs and close its Ann Arbor research and development facility by late 2008 as part of a company-wide plan to cut 10,000 jobs.

"We don't want to assume some savior is going to come in here and take up the whole site," Coleman said, stressing that community leaders are open to any and all ideas and already have heard a great deal of interest in hiring Pfizer people and developing the site from multiple sources.

The governor, Coleman, Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje, Ann Arbor SPARK CEO Michael Finney and community partners brought together economic development, business, educational, non-profit and government experts to plan for a post Pfizer future.

Granholm, who on the day of the Pfizer announcement said it was a "punch to the gut" for an already ailing state economy, was upbeat about the potential of those assembled at the special meeting to create new jobs, encourage spinoff companies and brainstorm other creative ways to address the impending job losses.

"We know that in any battle you can have a couple bad rounds but we're not going to lose the bout,'' Granholm said. "We are not going to lose the fight. We are up and enthusiastic and running.''

Within the first 168 hours after the Pfizer announcement, the action teams had achieved several key objectives to provide job opportunities and other career services that match the experience and expertise of displaced Pfizer colleagues. Among the actions taken so far:

• An open letter was issued to Pfizer colleagues and the community, signed by Granholm, Coleman, Hieftje and Finney;

• Business formation and acceleration resources were set up through Ann Arbor SPARK, an economic development and marketing organization for the greater Ann Arbor region;

• A toll-free hotline, Web blog, news.annarborspark.org/ has been established, along with a Web section for updated Pfizer news and employment, and business start-up opportunities at www.annarborspark.org/;

• An enhanced regional talent Web portal is in fast-track development;

• Career counseling is being offered through Michigan Works!/ETCS and SPARK-partnered Career Change Boot Camps; and

• U-M is working with its University Research Corridor partners, Michigan State University and Wayne State University, Coleman announced, calling the Pfizer challenge the "first major test'' of the alliance to strengthen and diversify Michigan's economy.

Ann Arbor SPARK and its community partners also are working to provide entrepreneurial boot camps, funding for start-up businesses through the Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund and equipment through the Michigan Innovation Equipment Depot. The action teams and their partners are working with regional universities and Pfizer to identify business and entrepreneurial opportunities.

As part of a comprehensive community response, the group will identify and implement talent, community, business development, policy, funding, communications and site strategies in five main areas:

• Talent—Identify and implement programs to keep talent in Michigan;

• Community—Identify and address possible disruptions to community agencies and organizations;

• Business development—Develop a business attraction plan, identify uses for excess equipment, support start-up companies and support business accelerator services;

• Policy, funding and communications—Solicit lead opportunities from community leaders, create legislative support for companies and research that can be supported by research experts, and establish a network for sharing information throughout the community, employers, employees and entrepreneurs; and

• Site—Make immediate and efficient use of Pfizer's vacated offices, laboratories, production capabilities and auxiliary facilities.

The Pfizer Strategic Working Action Teams are comprised of business, academic and community leaders. Organizations in the partnership include the Michigan Economic Development Corp., U-M, Michigan Works!/ETCS, Michigan Venture Capital Association, MichBio, and local, county and state units of government, chambers of commerce and convention and visitors bureaus.

More information on all of the resources available to Pfizer workers is available at www.AnnArborSPARK.org, or by calling (888) SPARK01.

For more on the University Research Corridor, go to www.urcmich.org.

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