In the days after Alexion announced that its worldwide headquarters will be leaving New Haven, state lawmakers and partisan leaders are still grappling with the news.
Alexion, a New Haven–born pharmaceutical company, announced on Tuesday that it would move its worldwide headquarters from 100 College St. to Boston by mid-2018. The state offered $52 million in 2012 to help Alexion move to New Haven from Cheshire, but, in light of the company’s announcement, the value of that investment is under scrutiny. Alexion’s relocation means 400 jobs will move to Boston and that a portion of 100 College St. will become vacant unless developers and the city can find a replacement for the space.
In the wake of Tuesday’s announcement, political leaders from both parties have offered a variety of perspectives on the surprise decision, ranging from anger to disappointment.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” said state Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven. “They’re taking more than half of their workforce to Boston for no particular reason … Their decision has been made, but hopefully they will reconsider it and stay in Connecticut and really invest in our community.”
If not, Candelaria said, there should be “consequences” for the company. With Alexion migrating to Boston, Connecticut should demand that the company return every dollar the state invested in it, he added.
Democratic Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, struck a more conciliatory tone in his statement on Alexion’s unexpected departure.
“It’s unfortunate that federal investigations and poor financial investments are forcing Alexion to lay off thousands of workers worldwide and shutter some of its facilities, including in Rhode Island next door,” he said in the statement. “Despite all this, I am pleased that Alexion has decided to retain a very substantial job presence here in downtown New Haven.”
Elsewhere in his statement, Looney characterized the move as a business decision “out of the control of state government.”
But, for state Rep. Dave Yaccarino, R-North Haven, Alexion’s decision to bid New Haven farewell is a product of the state’s unwillingness to invest in science and innovation and to offer incentives to venture capitalists.
Until now, the state’s investments have been largely successful, according to Matthew Nemerson SOM ’81, New Haven’s economic development administrator. When the state injected money into the Alexion project several years ago, it thought it had ensured that the company would remain in Connecticut instead of moving to Boston, Nemerson said.
As pharmaceutical start-ups are high-risk ventures, Nemerson added that Connecticut could improve its development strategy by diversifying its investments in and incentives for these companies. This method could help Connecticut and New Haven create a “critical mass” of pharmaceutical and other biotechnology companies, he said.
But, unless the state ramps up its investments and incentives, New Haven will not be able to compete with existing tech hubs like Boston and San Francisco, Yaccarino said.
“We have the assets here; we have the intelligent workforce; we have the universities,” he said. “We could just do a better job with our policies,” he said.
Chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party J.R. Romano was harsher in his denunciation of current state policy, blaming Alexion’s exit on suffocating taxes, a climate of fiscal uncertainty and Democrats’ “complete lack of political courage … to make systemic and lasting changes to the way that they do business.”
But Candelaria was quick to dismiss Romano’s accusations, noting that the state’s fiscal crisis predates Alexion’s arrival.
“The fiscal crisis has been going on for a couple years now,” Candelaria said. “It’s easier to cast blame. The only blame here is on Alexion for reneging on their commitment to Connecticut.”
Nemerson and Paul Pescatello, executive director at the Connecticut Bioscience Growth Council, agreed with Candelaria, saying Alexion’s departure stemmed more from the company’s new management team than from the state’s business climate.
Even so, both see room for improvements at both the state and municipal levels to create a more vibrant local biotechnology sector.
Still, certain state-level issues — most notably the ongoing budget crisis — continue to retard biotechnology and general business growth in Connecticut, Pescatello said.
The state currently faces a $1.6 billion deficit this fiscal year and a $3.5 billion deficit over the next two.
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