Jennifer Granholm recounts the day Pfizer announced its Ann Arbor exodus
(Editor's note: The following book excerpt features former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm recounting the day Pfizer Inc. announced that it would shutter its 174-acre Ann Arbor research campus, displacing more than 2,100 workers.)
“Hey, Jennifer, how are you doing?” I was in my car the morning of January 22, 2007, and the friendly voice on my cell phone belonged to Jeffrey Kindler, CEO of Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company, phoning from New York. Kindler was a fellow Harvard grad who’d held a fund-raiser for me during my reelection campaign.
“I’m doing okay,” I said. “I was just reinaugurated—”
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“I know! Congratulations!”
“It’s one of those ‘be careful what you wish for’ moments,” I continued, with a small laugh. Then I grew serious. “Actually, Michigan’s situation right now is astonishing. I’m grappling with the loss of manufacturing jobs because of globalization, a massive budget hole, a really tough downsizing process. But, hey, I’m sure you’ve faced similar struggles at Pfizer,” I said.
There was an awkward pause that lasted just long enough to give me a bad feeling about Kindler’s call. “Well, that’s why I’m calling,” he said. “We’re going through a massive downsizing, too. Lots of generics coming online that bump out our main drugs. We have to rationalize our global footprint.” Kindler paused again, and I thought I heard him swallowing. “It means that we’re gonna have to close our Ann Arbor facility,” he continued. “And close some of our operations in Kalamazoo. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news.”
My mind was racing, trying to assess the body count. How big were those facilities? “Wow, isn’t that about 3,000 jobs in Ann Arbor alone?” I said. “That can’t be right, can it?”
“Actually, between Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo, it’s about 5,000. But we’re not going to give out the numbers publicly because we don’t want people to panic. I’m so sorry. I know that it’s the last thing you need to hear. Michigan has been a great partner for us. But it’s beyond your control and beyond my control, frankly.”
“Jeff,” I heard myself almost panting, “is there anything we can do to keep you here? More tax breaks? Anything?” I was grasping for a lifeline.
“This goes well beyond taxes,” he said. “It’s about generic drugs coming online. We have to reduce our global footprint. It has nothing to do with Michigan. We’re closing facilities around the world. I’m so sorry,” Kindler said again.
I hung up the phone and immediately called David Cantor, who headed up Pfizer’s enormous labs in Ann Arbor. Cantor had been a close ally of mine, a champion of the entrepreneurial culture spreading through Ann Arbor, a vocal spokesperson for Michigan’s move toward life sciences, and a business advocate for my core revitalization strategy. Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo had been key cities in our Life Sciences Corridor initiative, with much of the planned development coming from Pfizer. This news would devastate both communities.
“David, were you part of this decision?” I asked, still trying to comprehend the magnitude of what was happening.
“Governor, I tried to stop it; really I did,” Cantor answered, his voice shaking. “But it’s all part of Pfizer’s global restructuring. That doesn’t make it any easier. I don’t know what to tell you, except you can’t begin to know how sorry I am.”
As I hung up the phone, I looked out the car window. We’d stopped on Liverois Avenue in Detroit, next to a vacant lot. I sat there, lost in thought, watching as fragments of trash blew up against a chain link fence. My God, I thought, when will we catch a break?