After 17 years, Alza Corp. is pulling up stakes
Last October, Mountain View officials and community members gathered in Alza Corporation's lobby to celebrate a groundbreaking partnership with the city. Harnessing methane gas from the landfill under Shoreline Park, Alza planned to generate power for its corporate office, bringing in revenue for the city and helping the environment for years to come.
But no one guessed the longtime local company would be leaving town within a year.
Johnson and Johnson, the company's owner, announced late last month that Alza, one of Mountain View's largest employers and philanthropic donors, will be leaving Mountain View along with sister company Scios, laying off 600 employees in the process.
The company's headquarters next to Google on Charleston Road will be up for sale by the end of the year.
"It's a drag," said city finance director Bob Locke. "They've been here a long time."
Since moving to Mountain View in 1990, the company has donated to local nonprofits such as the Community Services Agency and Rotacare, commissioned the "tetra helix" statue in North Bayshore, partnered with the Mountain View Whisman School District to provide a hands-on science program called "Science at Shoreline" — all while employing hundreds of people locally.
"Alza will have no presence in Mountian View after next year," said Nancy Noe, government relations director. "I'm sure that will be felt."
The company's generosity was significant enough to prompt a Voice article in 2003 titled "Could the giving stop?" — probing whether Johnson and Johnson's 2001 purchase of the company would affect its local philanthropy.
Founded in 1968 by Dr. Alejandro Zaffaroni, Alza's main business is producing timed-release medication capsules used to treat attention deficit disorder and other illnesses. The company's name comes from the first letters of the founders first and last name. Noe said community involvement was always one of Zafforoni's goals.
"It's always been a part of the corporate culture," she said.
The company shares its building with Scios, another Johnson and Johnson company facing cutbacks. Scios specializes in a treatment for congestive heart failure. Besides the 600 layoffs, about 200 employees from both companies will be transferred out of the Bay Area, and Alza's research and development efforts will discontinue, reports say.
Johnson and Johnson bought Alza in 2001 for $10.5 million and Scios in 2003 for $2.3 million. At the time, Alza's corporate communications director, John Liu, said the company had no plans to change its Mountain View operations and hoped the merger would boost Alza's marketing efforts here and abroad.
Like other companies in the pharmaceutical business, Johnson and Johnson faces reduced profits, in particular as a result of expired patents and slow drug sales. The company is reportedly laying off 4 percent of its global workforce — a total of 4,820 jobs — in order to save $1.3 billion.
Alza was named an outstanding company by the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce in 2005. The company employs former council member Noe as government relations director. She will remain on at another Bay Area Johnson and Johnson company.
Locke said the company's contribution to the city budget in sales tax dollars was in the tens of thousands. But the real loss is the people, he said.
The company has donated money locally to the Rotacare clinic at El Camino Hospital, the county's Healthy Kids medical insurance program, the annual Diversity Youth Forum, the Mountain View-based group For Those in Pain, and numerous other organizations and projects.
The company's Science at Shoreline program was of particular interest to Noe. "I'm hopeful that another company will pick that up and keep that going," she said.
Many wonder what will happen to Alza's building at 1900 Charleston Road, and its methane gas generation plant, when the company leaves. The generators were lauded as an environmental "win-win" by taking the landfill's methane gas and turning it into electricity, resulting in a reduction in greenhouse gases equivalent to taking 1,500 cars off the road annually.
E-mail Daniel DeBolt at email@example.com