The township of Nutley is bracing for the economic impact of the closure of the Hoffmann-La Roche plant and the loss of close to 1,000 jobs. Nutley Mayor Alphonse Petracco met with a Hoffmann-La Roche representative for the first time since yesterday’s announcement that the company will be shutting the facility by the end of next year. The mayor said he found out about the company’s plans when he got a surprise phone call from a company vice president yesterday.
“I was stunned, shocked; I couldn’t believe it,” Petracco said. “At first I thought maybe he was kidding around, joking around, but we’ve been partners with them since the early 1900s here, so we’re very disappointed as you can imagine.”
Since 1929, Hoffmann-La Roche has been a major employer, with close to 10,000 workers at its peak — across a number of chemical manufacturing and research buildings on its 119-acre site on the Nutley and Clifton border. Business has shrunk and the company says it just doesn’t need such a large facility any more and will move most of the operations to a European location. Yesterday’s announcement came as a surprise to everyone says Public Affair Director Darien Wilson.
“Certainly it was not anything that was anticipated and nothing that we could’ve done to tell the mayors ahead of time. We informed them at the same time we were informing our employees, so that they knew what was going on and the rationale, and certainly we’ll work with them going forward over the next few years while we transition the site, and get it ready for a sale,” Wilson said.
That might be a tough sell right now. The company is going to have to make sure the site is cleaned up because back when it started almost a century ago, nobody was really looking at what chemicals might’ve been dumped on these grounds. The mayor says the township will feel the impact in the pocketbook.
“They pay $9 million in tax ratables right now, so we’re hoping that a new vibrant company will pick this up,” Petracco said. “As far as out local economics, there’s 2,000 people that march through here a day so our merchants, our local commerce, sure, we’re gonna take a big hit and we’re very concerned about that.”
Merchants like Aaron Chen, who owns Sushi You just down the road from the front gate of the facility on Kingsland Street, says he gets about 50 orders a week from Roche employees, averaging $20 a pop.
“They just got two new buildings over there, and they’re just close all of them? Wow. I don’t know, man,” Chen said.
The township commission gave the company tax incentives just a few years ago to construct a new building and to renovate others. The company says it is planning to keep 240 jobs — which could include some of the workers from this site — at a research facility on the east coast. Today, Lieutenant Gov. Kim Guadagno said the governor wants the company to pick New Jersey for that site. Workers are expected to get layoff notices starting in August and the gates will be padlocked by the end of next year.
While the mayor says that communication between the company and the township has been less frequent than he would’ve like, they will meet again, when a vice president of Roche is expected to appear before a township commission meeting on July 3.
David Cruz reports from Nutley.