Electricity company may leave Elm City

West Haven city officials confirmed Wednesday that they are planning to approach United Illuminating, New Haven’s third-largest for-profit employer, about a possible move to a West Haven site currently occupied by Bayer Healthcare — which announced last week that it will close within the next 12 to 18 months, cutting 1,000 jobs in the region.

While media reports on Wednesday suggested that the city of West Haven had sent a letter to UI inviting them to consider a move to Bayer’s current location, West Haven Mayoral Chief of Staff James Burns said the city has not begun a formal discussion about the future of the site but is moving forward on preliminary plans to approach the electricity company. UI representatives said they have not yet been contacted by West Haven officials, but have in the past considered moving to the city — one of many locations identified for a possible move.

Since 2002, UI has considered consolidating its operations, which are currently dispersed across New Haven and nearby towns, New Haven Deputy Director for Economic Development Tony Bialecki said.

Bayer announced on Nov. 9 that it would move the departments currently in the West Haven plant, built in 1965, to its New Jersey headquarters as part of the company’s centralization strategy, Burns said. In an attempt to keep Bayer in the state, the West Haven and state governments offered incentives to Bayer — including $60 million in financial assistance — but the company refused the package, he said. Burns said the German pharmaceutical company’s announcement was not surprising, as Bayer has been cutting its operations in the city since 2003 when the company cut 1,000 jobs at the West Haven site.

Eileen Buckheit, West Haven commissioner of planning and development, said her commission discussed the possibility of drafting a letter inviting UI to examine the Bayer site, but no letter has been sent. While attracting UI to West Haven would benefit the city, Buckheit said, it would also be good for the city if the site could be used to expand the region’s growing biotechnology industry, which provides high-paying jobs to the local community.

“I think that it is in this region’s best interest to capitalize on a market that is already here and that is biotech,” she said.

Anita Steeves, a spokeswoman for UI, said the company has not received a letter from the city of West Haven, but it has begun looking at cities in the Greater New Haven region for a centralized headquarters. She said UI has been looking to combine its five locations — currently dispersed in New Haven, North Haven and Sheltnam — into one central campus.

“In essence, we are pulling together our company in one spot,” Steeves said. “We have been looking in different towns in our territory for a place [but] we have not made any final decisions.”

New Haven Urban Design League President Anstress Farwell GRD ’78 said UI has historically enjoyed a very close relationship with the Elm City. About 10 years ago, the company moved its corporate headquarters from what is now Criterion Cinemas on Temple Street to the Financial District on Church Street. UI’s lease for its Church Street office runs to 2012.

Farwell said that while she hopes UI’s corporate headquarters will remain in New Haven, she is unsure whether it is in the city of West Haven’s interest to encourage UI to move to the Bayer site, as it is not yet certain whether UI will leave New Haven.

“I would question if it would even be in West Haven’s interest if this is a long-term wait for someone who still isn’t committed entirely to leaving New Haven,” Farwell said.

Bialecki said the city has worked with UI to find an appropriate site in New Haven for the company’s centralized headquarters — in industrial parks in Fair Haven and in the harbor — but they have been unable to find anything up to now.

But Steeves said UI has not set itself any deadlines and has not ruled out the possibility of remaining in New Haven.

“We do not have a deadline,” she said. “We would like to be wherever we can build our central facility.”

UI provides electricity to households in New Haven and the greater New Haven area, and currently employs over 900 people.

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