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Abbott to Close Puerto Rico Plant

Abbott's facilities in Puerto Rico
Abbott plant in Barceloneta, Puerto Rico (Courtesy Caribbean Business)

The widely reported story that Abbott Laboratories (Abbott Park, IL) would close one of its facilities in Barceloneta, Puerto Rico, has been confirmed by an Abbott spokesman and the Associated Press. This is the third workforce reduction announced by Abbott in the last week; see our January 29 story for coverage of the earlier announcements.

Abbott spokesman Scott Stoffel confirmed that the plant would cease manufacturing in mid-2015. He declined to say how many employees work there, but said the company employs a total of 1500 people at several locations around the island.

In an interview with Danica Coto of the Associated Press, Barceloneta Mayor Wanda Soler said,"It's a bit worrisome, I have to admit," She added that she is working with the island's government to attract new business. "We have several plants that are in perfect condition."

Caribbean Business (CB) reports that the plant is the smallest of several that Abbott operates in Barceloneta. The global diversified healthcare company established operations in Puerto Rico in 1968. CB says Abbott had about 2600 employees at six manufacturing plants on the island in 2011, but in March of that year, the company closed its diagnostics division manufacturing facility in Barceloneta. That closure resulted in the layoff of 260 employees. The company reportedly transferred that production to plants in Germany, Ireland, and stateside.

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CB says that in 2007, Abbott inaugurated a $450 million, 330,000-square-foot biotech facility, Abbott Biotechnology Ltd. in Barceloneta. At that time, it was Abbott's largest single capital investment.

In November, drug giants Pfizer Inc. and Merck & Co. both released statements saying they would phase out operations in Barceloneta. The town, which has a population of about 25,000, was once the island's manufacturing hub. Both Pfizer and Merck said they would continue operations elsewhere in Puerto Rico, and neither gave specific numbers on job losses since some positions would be transferred to those manufacturing facilities.

Puerto Rico is still among the world's leading centers for pharmaceutical manufacturing, CB says, and the sector accounts for roughly a quarter of the island's economy. Since 2000, when they had about 20,000 employees on the island, drug makers have eliminated more than 9000 jobs, hitting Barceloneta and nearby towns along the island's north-central coast.

Abbott's announcement comes just as Puerto Rico is trying to revive its economy. The U.S. commonwealth is under pressure from credit rating agencies as it enters an eighth year of recession and battles a 15.4 percent unemployment rate, higher than any U.S. state.

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