Shocked, sad, confused

SARANAC LAKE – Myriad RBM’s two dozen employees here were told they will be losing their jobs in a Monday morning staff meeting, but a statement the company issued late Tuesday created some confusion about what exactly the company’s plans are.

Laurie Stephen, Myriad’s director of assay development and one of the founding partners of the Austin, Texas-based company’s local branch, said her supervisor, Myriad Chief Scientific Officer Jim Mapes, traveled to Saranac Lake to deliver the news to her co-workers Monday.

“It certainly was a shock to everybody,” Stephen said. “People are really sad. We have a great working group here.”

Mapes didn’t return a telephone message Tuesday. The person who answered the phone at Myriad RBM’s Austin headquarters said the company’s executives were out of the country for a meeting and wouldn’t be available for comment until next week.

Late Tuesday, however, Myriad issued a coroporate statement that, to some, left the door open to the possibility that the company may not completely close the Saranac Lake site.

“Myriad RBM plans to realign and integrate its operations at its Austin-based facility,” reads the statement, which village Mayor Clyde Rabideau posted on his Facebook page. “As a result of this decision, Myriad RBM will downsize its Saranac Lake operations.”

What exactly does downsizing mean? The company didn’t elaborate in the statement, and Myriad officials didn’t return another round of calls and emails from the Enterprise Tuesday night.

Rabideau said the statement offers “a glimmer of hope” that some of Myriad’s workers may be retained, although he admitted that, without clarification, that’s just a guess.

“In the 30 hours before (receiving the statement), three company officers said to me they will ‘close’ by March 2015,” Rabideau wrote the Enterprise in an email. “I will ask for the definition of ‘downsizing’ today. Other than that, there is not much else to say other than we are working on this.”

Stephen reaffirmed to the Enterprise this morning that she and her colleagues were being let go, although she said company officials refuse to use the word “layoff.”

“They gave everyone their final end dates,” she said. “No one stays on with Myriad RBM.”

Stephen also said Myriad RBM has roughly 24 employees at its Saranac Lake site, not the 32 that Rabideau reported in a statement he posted Monday on Facebook announcing the closure.

Myriad’s statement said its plans for the Saranac Lake site “are necessary to keep our company competitive in today’s challenging business environment.

“We realize these plans will have an impact on some of the talented employees at Saranac Lake, and we will exercise appropriate care for affected employees and assist them as needed. Affected employees were informed of these decisions in special face-to-face meetings.”

Stephen said she was told the closure is “a cost-cutting decision” made by the company that acquired Rules-Based Medicine, or RBM, in 2011, Salt Lake City, Utah-based Myriad Genetics.

“It has nothing to do with performance,” she said. “I think they want to consolidate. We’re owned by a company in Salt Lake City, and they feel there should just be one facility. Every time you get bought, you always worry about that, but I still think it was a surprise to everyone.”

Myriad RBM had just relocated two years ago from Lake Placid to a newly renovated, state-of-the-art laboratory and office in Saranac Lake. The village spent $780,000 fixing up the building, and village officials said before the company moved in that Myriad planned to invest $200,000 to $300,000 in outfitting the new site.

Stephen said the fact that the company decided to close so soon after all that investment was made suggests to her that the decision must have come up just recently.

Some of the company’s local employees may be able to keep their jobs if they relocate to Texas, but Stephen said she doesn’t think any of her co-workers want to move.

“I don’t think people are moving there,” she said. “I think that’s a bit of misinformation. There’s always some potential for relocation. I don’t think they would be able to absorb everybody, but I don’t think everybody would go.”

Stephen said she plans to stay in the local area.

“We’re settled here, and we love it,” she said. “I don’t know what’s next for me. It’s still kind of sinking in.”

Formed by Stephen and Dominic Eisinger after the breakup of Upstate Biotechnology in 2006, the local branch of Myriad RBM was originally called Multiplex Biosciences. It later merged with RBM and was located in Lake Placid until August 2012, when it moved to the former village offices at 3 Main St. Another Lake Placid biotech, Active Motif, relocated to the former village Water Department building at 17 Main St. in November 2012. The presence of the two for-profit companies created a nascent biotech cluster anchored by the nonprofit Trudeau Institute and Bionique Testing Laboratories in Lake Clear.

Rabideau said Monday that he plans to assemble a task force to travel to Texas and lobby to keep the local site open. If that effort isn’t successful, both Rabideau and Ronald Goldfarb, Trudeau’s president, director and CEO, said the three-story office building could be attractive to another biotech company. Both men said they’ve been working to bring other biotech companies into the community.

Stephen said she hopes there will be opportunities for herself and her co-workers to continue to live here and remain in their chosen career field.

“We’ve got a pool of people who have been doing science for years, and they want to live here,” she said. “There’s a lot of resources. With Start-Up New York, who knows? That’s definitely a good program with a lot of incentives. It’s a good industry still.”

Myriad RBM develops and manufactures specialized tests for use in biological or medical research, and for companies involved in drug discovery and development. The tests are designed to detect biomarkers, or proteins, in blood that can be used to measure the effectiveness of a particular drug or the progress of disease.

The company pays the village $70,000 a year and is in the middle of a five-year lease that doesn’t expire until 2017. Stephen said she expects Myriad would continue to pay the village after it moves out, but she said she didn’t know for sure.