Hope for Pfizer staff

Posted on 2 Mar 2011 by The Manufacturer

Pfizer may be closing its Kent research facility but hope is at hand for its skilled employees following a task force fact finding mission to The Heath, Runcorn.

The economic task force,created by government to help safeguard the skills jeopordised by the closure of the Pfizer research and development centre in Kent is in talks with The Heath Business and Technical Park, Runcorn, to discover how the site’s model for industry skills retention and support for business growth might be applied in England’s garden county.

The Sandwich Economic Development Task Force visited The Heath on a major fact finding mission on Friday Feburary 25. The delegation was led by the task force’s chairman Paul Carter, leader of Kent County Council and following his visit Carter expressed optimism for the value that might be replicated from The Heath model.

The Heath, which was formerly the headquarters of chemical processing and manufacturing company, ICI, is a now a thriving business park which supports start-up and grwoing businesses in the Runcorn area, whatever their sector, though with a heavy bias toward science, engineering and technology enterprises.

After the site’s closure by ICI in the late 1990s a break-away group of ICI facilities managers, fearing for the future of the technical skills held by site staff and for the economic fotunes of the area, bought the site from the chemicals company and established SOG Ltd, a unique facilities management enterprise. Their concept was to retain skilled staff from ICI and utilise their skills to support local enterprises in need of their expertise.

What this means is that SOG not only retained key workers and skills form ICI but also created opportunity for local entrepeneurialism and innovation. The Heath is now home to 170 individual businesses employing over 1,700 people. More workers are now employed at The Heath than during the halcyon days of ICI during the 1980s and there are still original ICI employees working in support services, such as bespoke machine tooling and laboratory glass blowing, without which some of the companies on site would simply not exist.

A prime example of such a comapny is the innovative manufacturer of quantum dots, Nanoco. Quantum dots are used in display screens and have a vast array of applications. Nanoco is hopeful of swift growth after refining the final stages of its manufactuinrg technology however, having outgrown its incubation premises at manchester University, it would have found itself with suitable lab facilities without the provision of SOG.

Following his visit to The Heath Carter commented:“I was enormously impressed by the way in which SOG in Runcorn took on skilled staff from ICI and adapted them as a basis for supporting new businesses on the site. Protecting the skills base in East Kent is clearly a high priority for us and there are lessons we can learn from what SOG has achieved at The Heath.“ At present some 2400 jobs are endangered by the closure of the Pfizer facility.

Recognising the value which they have created at The Heath could bring to national regeneration and entrepeneurial growth SOG directors have now developed an initiative called “Fusion“ in order to help replicate the model elsewhere. Through Fusion SOG will provide specialist knowledge and the benefit of their experience help other ailing commercial and industrial sites which face closure or downsizing.

SOG Chairman Dr Peter Cook said: “We believe our Fusion regeneration process could assist Pfizer and the Task Force in identifying the various options for the future of this important location which hopefully might help to create new business opportunities and generate new jobs in the region.

“We are acutely aware of the impact on the community and the local economy when a major employer decides it must close a facility. In Runcorn we were able to protect some of the fantastic skills on this site and utlise those skills to support new business and drive the regeneration process.“

The task force visit to The Heath will bring a breath of hope to many Pfizer employees who may be concerned about their job prospects following the closure of the Kent site.