No confusion, biotech will shut down

SARANAC LAKE – Any talk of Myriad RBM scaling back but still keeping its operation here is just that.

The biotech’s 20 employees will be laid off in phases over the next seven months as it shuts down its Main Street location for good, according to Dominic Eisinger, Myriad RBM’s director of sales and marketing.

“It’s ending,” he said.

When news that the local site may close began to swirl nearly two weeks ago, Myriad officials responded with a confusing statement that said they will “downsize” the Saranac Lake site as part of a plan to realign operations at its Austin, Texas-based facility. Mayor Clyde Rabideau said that left “a glimmer of hope” that some of Myriad’s local workers could be retained.

Eisinger, who lives in Keene, said the wording of the statement may have been a reference to the possibility of Myriad contracting with some of its Saranac Lake employees if they were to start up a new company.

“But that’s completely, who knows? It’s all up in the air,” Eisinger said. “The bottom line is Myriad RBM will be no more here.”

A total of 20 employees, contrary to prior reports of 24 and 32, will lose their jobs at the Saranac Lake site in three phases between now and the end of March. They’re all being given severance pay, but Eisinger said he couldn’t disclose the details.

Eisinger is the only local Myriad employee who won’t lose his job. Unlike the rest of the company’s Saranac Lake-based workers, who are in operations, Eisinger is in sales and marketing. He spends a lot of his time on the road, covering the East Coast and parts of Europe.

Eisinger and Laurie Stephen, former employees of Upstate Biotechnology, launched the local company, then called Multiplex Biosciences, in 2006. It later merged with Rules-Based Medicine, or RBM, which in April 2011 was bought by Myriad Genetics.

Myriad RBM develops and manufactures tests for use in biological or medical research, and for companies involved in drug discovery and development. It was one of two biotech companies that relocated from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake as part of a deal crafted with the village three years ago. The village spent $780,000 to renovate its three-story former office building – originally built in 1927 to house Paul Smith’s Electric Light and Power and Railroad Company – for Myriad. The company moved into the building in August 2012.

Eisinger said Myriad spent $320,000 of its own on the Saranac Lake site. Asked how it could throw that away so soon after moving here, he said the business climate has changed.

“Myriad has bigger, larger issues strategically,” he said. “This is what they want. It’s also cost cutting. We’ve had cuts across the company, even in Austin. Decisions had to be made, and I don’t know fully all the decisions behind the scenes that led to it. If I had known this, we would have stayed in Lake Placid, obviously.”

Eisinger admitted there were some “fears” the site could close about a year ago when Myriad shut down a German facility that was about the same size. The head of that branch has since reincorporated it into a new company that Myriad is now contracting with, Eisinger said.

Could the same happen here?

“I think there will be a lot more clarity on this in a month or so,” Eisinger said. “Things have to get figured out quickly on that angle.”

Rabideau has said the village will do everything it can to try and keep Myriad’s local workers here.

“We will work with current employees to help them regroup and perhaps start their own biotech operation at 3 Main St. should we fail in keeping the company here,” he wrote in a letter to the Enterprise editor last week. “We are also in talks with other biotech firms interested in locating in Saranac Lake. We are aggressively covering every base we can.”

Eisinger said some of his colleagues are going to stay locally while others may move. He said they’re all “highly marketable” and could easily get jobs in the same field.

“That’s why I think the cluster thing is critical, because this is what happens,” Eisinger said. “Success in biotech can mean closing because you get bought out or the technology gets incorporated. It’s actually a very efficient process from a capitalistic point of view. It works great in an area like Boston, New Jersey or the Washington (D.C.) corridor, where you’ve got a hundred of them. Employees can say, ‘Great, I get a month off before my next job,’ instead of being disappointed about losing their job.”

Myriad is part of a nascent biotech cluster in Saranac Lake that also includes the nonprofit Trudeau Institute and two for-profit companies: Active Motif, located in the former village Water Department building on Main Street, and Bionique Testing Laboratories in the town of Harrietstown’s Airport Business Park in Lake Clear.

Eisinger said he hopes the local cluster can grow and thrive, despite the loss of Myriad. He noted that the state has committed $35 million over five years to a biotech partnership between Trudeau and Clarkson University.

Is there more that village officials can do to bring other biotech companies here?

“I think they’ve done what they can,” Eisinger said. “I think sometimes the state and people get caught up in infrastructure and buildings for a start-up. It’s really about people and a business plan, having customers and making revenue. That’s the more critical thing, and that’s not the village’s role. That’s Trudeau’s and Clarkson’s role. That’s our role, the companies that come in. You can create an environment working with state economic development officials. I think the village has done a good job.”