Merck headquarters move shocks Hunterdon County

Merck headquarters move shocks Hunterdon County

It was just two months ago, on 12th August, that Max’s 22 Restaurant opened its doors, offering Merck employees a discount of 10% and watching as workers from the second biggest drug maker in the world instantly began accounting for as much as one-quarter of its business.  Now, however, the Route 22 restaurant and the Hunterdon County community in general are going to have to be on the lookout for another top moneymaker instead, because Merck announced on Tuesday that it is intending to move its global headquarters and around 2,000 jobs away from Readington Township into Union County before the close of 2015.

The relocation will leave the county and township without a top taxpayer and employer, and the business community of Readington Township is likewise going to have to look for brand new patrons.  “It could put me out of business,” admits Keith Gilstein, the manager and part owner of Max’s, who says that the Whitehouse Station section of Readington was liked by him and his partners because it came with a built-in customer base courtesy of Merck.  “Would we have necessarily purchased this place if we knew Merck was moving its corporate headquarters? Maybe yes, maybe no. But I have to be honest, it would have to be more on the no side.”

Merck says that its plan, which is the latest cutting of costs by the company since it merged with fellow pharmaceutical manufacturer Schering-Plough Corporation three years ago back in 2009, will be to close and then sell off its headquarters, which offers one million square feet of space, while retaining an administrative office which employs a couple of hundred people at the same campus and is just one-quarter of the size.  For Hunterdon County, however, the best-case scenario would be another employee with as big a workforce buying the larger building and being ready to start operations as soon as Merck leaves. This scenario is likely to be difficult, as Robert Walton, the Hunterdon County Freeholder Director, admits.  Walton says that with the state of the economy being the way that it is, businesses are generally just not expanding and that the county has to be prepared for the worst-case scenario – that that building will stand there empty for many years to come.

Merck claims that the decision is part of a scheme to cut down on the costs of real estate and operations in as many as 70 countries as a result of its merger with Schering-Plough.  Company spokesman Ron Rogers says that the brand new Summit headquarters, which was gained in the merger, has seen $400 million worth of upgrades in the last nine years since 2003 and is much closer to major cities and transportation, being just half an hour away from New York City and 20 minutes away from Newark Liberty International Airport. It already employs 1,800 people and houses Merck’s research, animal health, manufacturing and consumer care operations.

Lance Grooms