In 1974, a newly built plant in Elverum began producing pharmaceuticals. In the years that followed, ownership and operating responsibility passed from the Norwegian Association of Pharmacists to Hydro, Nycomed and, finally – in 2011 – the Japanese company Takeda. The majority of the workforce has stayed throughout all the changes, like Tove Stensby, who joined the plant staff as a trainee production operator in December 1973 and stayed on as an employee until March 2015. In Elverum, working at the plant for over 30 years is more the rule than the exception.
The announcement of the plant’s planned closure in February 2013 came as a shock to both staff and the local council. Excess production capacity had led the owners to conclude that one of their two Norwegian factories had to be closed down. An understandable decision, some might say, but even more disappointing since the plant was profitable. High productivity and an excellent delivery record are not usually associated with closure.
The employees, led by Elverum mayor Erik Hanstad, were ready to fight for the plant’s future. The same day as the announcement was made, Erik Hanstad resolved to preserve as many jobs as possible. He launched a restructuring project under the auspices of Elverum Regionens Næringsutvikling, a company promoting regional business development in the Elverum region. In the autumn of 2013, Finn Andersen was appointed to lead the project. The strong cohesion of the workforce and the desire to save as many jobs as possible produced a startling idea: to buy the plant from Takeda and run it under local ownership. In fact, the staff were to be the new owners.
Per S. Thoresen was managing director of Nycomed and later Takeda Nycomed from 2003 until 2014, when he retired. He was as sad as the employees to see Elverum’s most important business closed down. When the mayor contacted him, he was quick to pledge his commitment to the joint effort of transforming the project from a good idea into a viable business concept and company.
In February 2014, Per S. Thoresen, Finn Andersen and Erik Hanstad presented their plans to the plant staff. Prior to the meeting, the hope was that about 30 employees would be interested in joining the project. Although the only certainty in the project was that many of the current employees would be unemployed in 2015, the plans presented at the meeting offered considerable hope for the future. 107 of the 190 employees signed up as shareholders immediately. Why? One reason is that they had already developed a strong sense of ownership during their many years at the plant. Another is that the Elverum area offers few other job opportunities. Finally, Per Thoresen’s optimism regarding the business’s potential was highly convincing. After the meeting, 15 further shareholders signed up, all of them with some connection to the pharmaceuticals industry, local community or plant.
The following 12 months flew by, with the stakeholders investing many hours in the project – more than 7,000 unpaid hours from July 2014 to July 2015. The negotiations with Takeda resulted in the purchase of the plant, its grounds and some production equipment by the holding company Strandmoen Næringsutvikling (SNU), which represents the 122 shareholders. The acquisition was followed by the process of developing an organisational structure and securing production agreements. Leif Rune Skymoen, a pharmacist, was appointed general manager of the production company, Curida. Although he was the only member of staff not previously employed at the plant, he did grow up in Flisa, close to Elverum. Leif Rune, the other shareholders and the employees have ambitious plans for the future, backed by SNU and its general manager Finn Andersen and board chair Per S. Thoresen.
Locally, the plant is called the “pill factory”, although that name is somewhat misleading. Pill production ended in 1993, and since then the plant has specialised in liquid pharmaceuticals. In fact, a leading European business in its field. Production quality and reliability are the plant’s hallmarks, and will drive Curida’s future growth and job creation.
So, what does the future hold for Elverum after the ribbon is cut and all the speeches have been held on 1 July 2015? Around 50 former employees will begin in “new” jobs with Curida during the course of the autumn. The objective for the years ahead is to build a healthy, robust business, secure further contracts and expand the workforce. Curida regards the preservation of profitable jobs as its primary social assignment, and as a means of creating value in Norway.
Curida’s main focus will be on the production of pharmaceuticals for other pharmaceutical companies, both in Norway and abroad. In other words, the company will not produce own-brand products at present. Pharmaceuticals companies are increasingly outsourcing parts of their production to sub-contractors like Curida. As a leading producer of liquid pharmaceuticals, the company will be competing internationally, and most of its production will be concentrated on the export sector.
However, Curida will be more than just a production facility for other companies. Its second social assignment is to preserve important expertise in Norway and invest in the entire value chain. Curida aims to become a national centre for industrialisation of medical innovations. In other words, it will seek to mature important research into products. In Norway, about eight billion NOK a year is invested in health-related research and development, and it is vital that these funds benefit patients in the form of new treatment methods and life-saving medicines. The market currently offers few possibilities for producing and testing medicines, and Curida wishes to be Norway’s option, capable both of producing new medicines for clinical trials and manufacturing for sale once a product is approved. This approach will secure value creation, preserve expertise and be an important element in efforts to develop and commercialise the Norwegian healthcare industry.
This is the story of willing helpers, local enthusiasts and community spirit capable of moving mountains, and of drive that has turned a highly dramatic situation into a golden opportunity. In short, Curida’s story is a small industrial adventure – and we have only just begun.
Many people have invested countless hours in securing the continued operation of the plant in Elverum, and are entitled to be proud when Curida opens its doors on 1 July. Nonetheless, four particular individuals have played absolutely vital roles. Without their involvement, Curida would not have been born this summer.
– Mayor Erik Hanstad, who refused to give up when informed of the closure, immediately accepting the challenge and going on the offensive.
– Takeda, represented by plant director Morten Brevig, who from day one expressed a willingness to help secure new jobs in the local community and focused on facilitating the smoothest possible process and takeover.
– Board chair Per S. Thoresen, who has created opportunities through his experience, commitment and unstoppable drive.
– Finn Andersen, who was tasked with finding ways of preserving as many jobs as possible in the autumn of 2013, and has been dedicated to the project round the clock for almost two years. He is currently the CEO of SNU.