Industry pressures nationwide have led the Mass Biologics Lab (MBL) in Mattapan to make significant layoffs this year and rethink its strategy regarding its plans for growth on its Walk Hill Street campus.
A year ago, MBL, an anchor industry on the former State Hospital site for more than a decade, proposed and initiated the purchase of four additional acres on the site for a laboratory expansion. The future of that plan, and of the existing operation, is up in the air now.
“We had a consolidation of the workforce and it’s all biotech and other companies, too,” said Sarah Willey, a spokesperson for MassBiologics of UMass Chan Medical School, the parent organization for MBL. “It’s not just MassBiologics. The team is re-evaluating the strategic plan and taking a big picture of where to [position] resources…That is continuing at this time…We don’t have specifics yet.”
She said layoffs were announced across the MassBiologics portfolio last spring, with most of them completed by April. At the Mattapan facility, 25 people were laid off in 2023 and 5 of those individuals were from the abutting communities of Mattapan, Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, Hyde Park, Roslindale, and Roxbury.
Eric Peterson, deputy director of Manufacturing and Facilities at MBL, told members of the State Hospital Community Advisory Committee (CAC) last Thursday at a public meeting that layoffs hit in February. “We weren’t producing materials, so…quality control, supervisors, and manufacturing people were hit hard,” he said.
State Rep. Russell Holmes noted that he had heard the workforce was going to be consolidated into the operations building on the site, leaving the research building vacant and shut down.
“The senior leadership is working with the school and outside consultants on the research strategy for MassBiologics; I don’t think they’ve agreed on a plan yet,” Peterson responded.
He said conditions in the industry have been tough, and part of their business has dried up. Right now, they are trying to find a strategy to replace what they lost and “get back on track.”
“The biotech world as you may know…has been in a little bit of a tight spot over the last 6 to 18 months,” he said. “Rising interest rates and other concerns really affected starter companies. Part of our business is working as a contract manufacturing company doing work for other companies. If they are having trouble, we don’t have that work.”
A troubling issue for many CAC members and Holmes was the status of MBL’s plan of a year ago. “We were at the point where [MBL] was about to pay for the property there,” said Holmes. “They were locked in and now what happens if they decide not to buy that property?”
He and CAC Secretary Beverley Johnson both noted that the workforce has consolidated quite a bit in recent years, especially within the six communities, and shutting down a building potentially is very concerning.
“I want to state for the record that these are huge changes in numbers – huge for the community staff that live in the six neighborhoods,” Johnson said. Added Holmes: “I think it would be great to have a much more thorough conversation about this.”
The staff at the Mattapan facility has traditionally numbered closed to 200, with a high of 205 in 2016. Originally, about 20 percent of that staff came from the six communities, but that has changed over the years. In 2020, there were 187 staff members and 31 (17 percent) from the community. As of this month, there are 128 staff and 12 from the community (9 percent).