Eli Lilly's Pullout Leaves Shock Waves

By Cecilia Kang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 18, 2007

When pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly decided that it would shutter its half-finished insulin manufacturing plant in Manassas, local county officials were left in the dark about the Indianapolis company's plans until they were announced in a press release last week.

Prince William County and the state spent years wooing the company, which was expected to bring 350 jobs to the region, and provided about $4.5 million in tax and other incentives for the firm to pick its Northern Virginia location.

"It was obviously a big surprise and huge disappointment," said Jason Grant, a spokesman for the Prince William County Department of Economic Development. Eli Lilly said it scrapped the Manassas project as part of a bigger strategic shift in its global manufacturing operations. The company said it would pay back the $4.5 million it received in county and state incentives.

Despite earlier setbacks, which had reduced the plant's projected size and number of jobs by half, everything seemed to be on track. The facility was half complete, with the foundation poured, steel beams erected and construction crews busily milling about the Innovation business park site.

The firm had hired about 120 employees, all working in a cluster of trailers on the site, starting up business operations and consulting on the plant's construction. Employees were also involved in the community; Eli Lilly contributed to local philanthropies and was involved in arts and cultural programs in Manassas and Prince William County.

"It's hard to know what kind of impact this will have on the county," Grant said. "It's been a great partner, involved in the community with schools, programs and arts. We hope this partnership will continue as they figure out an exit strategy."

Local business leaders echoed Grant's concerns.

The Prince William County-Greater Manassas Chamber of Commerce pointed out the company's sponsorship of the American Diabetes Association's annual America's Walk for Diabetes, as well as its support of the Prince William Symphony Orchestra, Manassas Dance Company, and many other arts and nonprofit community service organizations.

What is also uncertain is how local businesses will be affected by Eli Lilly's departure. On a typical weekday lunch hour, the Manassas Potbelly Sandwich Works and Foster's Grille are teeming with Innovation park employees, many of them wearing red-and-white Eli Lilly badges.

"As a businessman, I certainly understand the need for a company to respond strategically to challenges in the marketplace -- that's just common sense," said Joe Martin, chairman of the chamber. "As a community leader, I'm naturally very disappointed about the loss of jobs the plant would have brought into the community, both directly through its associates and indirectly through all the businesses providing services to the company."

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