From Business Direct Weekly (Business Review), Sept. 04-10, 2003
A performance maybe, but with a plea for dignity
Are the kid gloves off, now, when it comes to Pfizer?
It certainly seemed that way, the evening of Aug. 26 at the Kalamazoo Public Library. Certainly more than a few of the speakers there, invited to address members of the state Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, expressed at least a mild case of jitters about the results thus far due to the job cuts from Pfizer Inc.’s reorganization.
The heat was turned up when Ray Wilson of the Kalamazoo County Taxpayers Association upbraided the state for wasting money to bail out former Pfizer workers. After all the other speakers the audience of 190 or so applauded politely. After Mr. Wilson, the room was silent.
But things got really hot when Southwest Michigan First CEO Barry Broome took the microphone. His was a remarkable performance.
Barry Broome did not take off his suit jacket. He did not roll up his sleeves. He was not carrying a baseball bat or some other large stick.
But he certainly seemed to have been liberated from whatever restraints may have held him back before. He was almost Billy Sunday, and no longer were his words those of making nice with Pfizer.
He said what he thought and damn the torpedoes.
Broome’s opening comments recalled something he contended he’d said back when Pfizer first announced its reorganization. “Synergy,” he said, “means job loss.”
And he let loose from there.
Now if you’ve ever had a conversation with Barry Broome, he will tell you pretty early on that his dad was a Marine. And that he grew up in the Hilltop neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio — which, trust me, isn’t the worst section of that city, but it surely is not the swankiest. The subtext — Barry can scrap.
Promises were made, he said, loudly and clearly, as if channeling the feelings of many who were not invited to address the committee. Promises from Pfizer for help. Where is that help, because we need it now, he demanded.
Later, bringing up the question of how many employees will lose their livelihoods at Pfizer, he stated, “We have a right to know what our economic condition is.”
This community, he continued, deserves to hold onto its “dignity.”
To this day, Pfizer has yet to release any head count on how many jobs will be lost in Kalamazoo County — despite the fact, Broome insisted, that “Pfizer knows, in general, that number.”
Why, he asked, didn’t the Federal Trade Commission call “a public hearing so the communities involved could participate in a discussion of what this decision has done?”
Broome’s own best guess for the number of Pfizer jobs to be lost is 2,000. His math would bring it to $400 million in personal income gone.
At the end of each speaker’s three-minute period, Committee Chairman Sen. Jason Allen would politely ask for a wrap-up. He tried that with Barry Broome.
“But I just want to add …,” Broome replied, waving off the pitch, and on he went, reinforcing his point.
You may not agree with everything Barry Broome has said or done since he came to western Michigan. Heck, some people haven’t agreed with anything he has said or done.
But that Tuesday night, he was there to fight for this part of the world.
Michael Chevy Castranova is editor of Business Direct Weekly.