Alza: the last of a breedMany Mountain View nonprofits probably saw it coming when Alza was purchased by the medical conglomerate Johnson and Johnson six years ago. But even so, when the news became official this month that Alza would lay off 600 workers and leave Mountain View forever, it sent a gasp through the community, especially among the groups that Alza has supported over the years.
Alza, a relatively small player in the world of giant pharmaceutical companies, was sold for several billion dollars in 2001. Since then, its destiny has been in the hands of J&J, a high-profile company which owns the rights for many popular prescription drugs, some of which will lose their patents in a few years. Rather than struggle when the patents expire, the company decided to cut its costs, and laid off more than 4,000 employees worldwide, which also spelled the end of Alza in Mountain View, whose products can be made elsewhere.
But although it probably won't take long to find another company to take over Alza's building in the Bayshore, it will be much more difficult to replace the commitment to public service that made Alza so special in Mountain View. Alza was named an outstanding company by the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce in 2005. According to Nancy Noe, a former City Council member who is government affairs director of Alza, community involvement was a key component and important goal set out by its founder, Dr. Alejandro Zaffaroni.
Beneficiaries of the company's generosity include the Rotacare clinic at El Camino Hospital, the county's HealthyKids medical insurance program, the annual Diversity Youth Forum, and many other organizations and projects.
Alza's latest big public service project was building a system to turn methane gas from the city's landfill into electricity that could be used in the company building. Enough power is produced to eliminate a huge amount of greenhouse gases — reportedly the equivalent to taking 1,500 cars off the road.
In today's global marketplace, it is often difficult for companies to focus on a community the size of Mountain View, especially when they operate in several cities around the world.
Nevertheless, we expect Microsoft, Google, Synopsis and Yahoo, to name just a few, will take note of the hole Alza's departure leaves in Mountain View's nonprofit community. Now it is time for another public-spirited company to step up and take over where Alza left off. Luckily, Mountain View has no shortage of candidates.