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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

City says Thermo Fisher layoffs won’t impact campus purchase deal

The ThermoFisher building, formerly the PPD headquarters.
Benjamin Schachtman
The Thermo Fisher building, formerly the PPD headquarters.

As part of the city’s nearly-completed acquisition of the downtown campus, Thermo Fisher agreed to lease $1.8 million worth of space for three years. City officials say the company’s decision to adjust staffing levels won’t impact the agreement.

Thermo Fisher completed its purchase of Wilmington-based research company PPD in early 2022, and several months later began exploring the sale of the 12-story headquarters building located on the northern riverfront.

Early this year, the city announced it had been considering a nearly $70-million purchase of the former PPD campus to consolidate government operations. As part of a sale agreement with the city, Thermo Fisher agreed to continue leasing some space (roughly two floors), at a rate of $1.8 million annually for three years.

Over the last week, several employees in Thermo Fisher’s PPD division contacted WHQR, expressing concerns about the company’s plan to lay off employees this summer — as well as a proposed plan to conduct a “cost efficiency review” in the fall, which could potentially lead to additional cuts.

Thermo Fisher acknowledged the layoffs in a statement:

Thermo Fisher Scientific continuously evaluates its global operations to identify opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness in meeting our customers’ needs. Accordingly, we have decided to adjust staffing levels within select areas of the PPD clinical research business of Thermo Fisher Scientific. Decisions that impact colleagues and their families are never taken lightly. However, these actions are designed to help us serve our customers better, strengthen our global competitive position and provide long-term growth and success for our organization.

Thermo Fisher did not respond to several follow-up questions about the extent of the layoffs or the plans for potential future “workforce adjustments.” The company did not file a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification, or a WARN notice, with the state.

According to the North Carolina Department of Commerce, federal law requires a company to file a WARN notice if it intends to:

  • Close a plant that affects at least 50 employees during any 30-day period. (This does not include workers who have worked less than six months during the last year or employees who work less than an average of 20 hours a week.)
  • Conduct a mass layoff of at least 500 employees, or a layoff impacting between 50-499 employees when that number represents at least one-third of the employer’s workforce.

City officials say the Thermo Fisher layoffs won’t affect the lease agreement.

On a related note, the city still has not released its cost analysis of floor selection for its own offices. Some city council members, including Mayor Pro-Tem Margaret Haynes and Councilman Charlie Rivenbark have previously expressed interest in leasing the upper floors and penthouse of the building; Councilman Luke Waddell expressed concern that those floors, which lease at a higher rate, would cost taxpayers unduly.

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.