Albany -- Flint River plant employees were told this morning the operation would close by the fourth quarter of 2006, and more than 350 people will lose their jobs.
The closing of the Flint River plant is part of what Merck calls a global restructuring program. The drug company is selling or closing five of its 31 manufacturing facilities worldwide and cutting operations at some other sites. The restructuring is expected to save Merck $2 Billion by 2010.
"It is Merck's intent to attempt to sell this site. If that attempt is unsuccessful, then the site would be closed," said Randy Hall, the Vice President of Flint River Plant Operation.
Hall says the company is already talking with some of its suppliers who may want to buy the plant and possibly hire some or all of its employees. "I would expect that anyone purchasing the site would be interested in maintaining the core group of our employees."
But today, those employees are facing an unclear future. "It's our intent to treat all our employees with all the dignity and respect that they deserve. So we'll certainly do everything that we can to ease the transition for our employees."
7,000 Merck employees worldwide are being laid off in the restructuring effort, half of those work in American plants. The company now plans to focus more on drug research and less on manufacturing, and Flint River is a manufacturing site.
It's main drug, cholesterol-lowering Zocor, is losing its patent next year. Hall said, "ZOCOR is a $5 Billion product for Merck, and it's also the biggest we make at this site. It's half of what we do. So that product going off patent certainly affects the corporation and has a huge impact on our site."
The closure of Merck would have a huge impact on Albany. It has a payroll of more than $25 Million, and it has a $50 Million economic impact on the community each year. So community leaders say they'll work with Merck to sell the plant. "We have less than a year to hopefully move this plant to a new tenant and hopefully get our folks engaged in another type of employment." said Dougherty County Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard.
Economic Development leaders hope to show off the plant during next week Fall Feather Hunt - an event that brings in potential businesses and companies looking to relocate or expand in this area.
Even though Merck is being sued by more than six thousand people over Vioxx, the Albany plant says that has nothing to do with its closing.