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U-M announces $3 million fund, other efforts to help Pfizer workers

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Lab to classroom: U-M helps Pfizer workers consider teaching>

President Mary Sue Coleman announced Thursday a $3 million fund to help Pfizer Inc. workers obtain new U-M research positions, as well as other efforts to keep Pfizer's 2,100 Ann Arbor workers in the area.

Coleman, Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje and Ann Arbor SPARK CEO Mike Finney updated more than 300 members of the Ann Arbor community Thursday on efforts made by their Pfizer Strategic Working Action Teams since the company announced in late January plans to close its Ann Arbor campus by late 2008.
Ann Arbor Business Review Editor Andy Chapelle moderates the discussion as President Mary Sue Coleman, Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje and SPARK President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Finney update the community on efforts to retain displaced Pfizer employees, including the University’s announcement of a plan to dedicate $3 million to attract and hire Pfizer employees into U-M research-track positions.

Coleman said doing nothing was not an option, adding that leaders are working hard on many fronts to address the Pfizer situation.

While many of the workers are expected to take transfers to other Pfizer facilities, Finney said SPARK already has a database with details on the 25 percent of the Pfizer workers who have expressed interest in staying in the area and taking new jobs or starting new businesses. Part of SPARK's economic development mission is to help create and attract new companies to the area.

The $3 million fund administered by Provost Teresa Sullivan will be spent over a three-year period to attract and hire Pfizer employees into U-M research-track positions. The provost's office will make $1 million per year available in one-time funds. Units that nominate individuals for this support will be expected to provide a substantial match to the provost's funds, resulting in significantly more than $3 million in University funding for this effort.

Coleman said the extra money could help in special cases, such as instances where U-M wants to lure a particularly talented researcher or spouse, or a gifted faculty member. While the fund could help create an additional 20 new research positions, she stressed that U-M regularly has hundreds of openings that can also be filled by various Pfizer staff at all levels.

The money for the fund comes from gift funds, not state or tuition dollars, she added. Nominations for candidates to support will be made by individual schools and colleges and will go to the Office of the Vice President for Research, which will work with the provost's office to determine allocation amounts.

The provost's new program also includes a mentoring plan that will describe how the nominee will be brought along to a point where he or she can be a successful, independent research track scientist at U-M by the end of the support period.

During a morning forum sponsored by the Ann Arbor Business Review, participants outlined a number of potential opportunities for the Pfizer campus and its work force, and updated the community on what has happened since the company's February announcement of its plan to leave Ann Arbor. These include:

• A possible public-private-university partnership, where government sponsored labs or research and University activities would occupy various parts of Pfizer's 2 million square feet of work space. But the panelists stressed that all options remain on the table, and Finney said not to rule out the possibility of one major tenant buying many or all of the facilities.

• Hieftje noted the 177-acre Pfizer campus includes 89 acres of vacant land that could produce "a very exciting opportunity for Ann Arbor," including new homes for the new work force that will eventually move into the facilities now owned by Pfizer.

• Finney said 115 companies have contacted SPARK with opportunities for Pfizer workers that could provide hundreds of jobs. He said SPARK also has received 65 business ideas for the site from companies and individuals, including about 20 ideas for spinoff companies that could be created by Pfizer workers.

• Hieftje said just 25 percent of the Pfizer workers live within the city of Ann Arbor, meaning any impact on the real estate market would be spread throughout the region.

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