Monday, January 19, 2009

President Obama and US Jobs – What Happens Next?

We have a new President, Barack Obama. “Things” have changed and will continue to do so. What I want to blog about today is what this could mean for US jobs, in particular, in the life sciences sector.

Big Pharma has been offshoring the jobs of its employees for years now. Sometimes, to third party vendors, sometimes through the fiction of captive centers. Either way, jobs have left the country. Also, let’s not forget all the cash that some of them keep offshore to avoid US taxes. A lot of investment and jobs could be funded with it.

President Obama ran and was elected on keeping and creating jobs in America. The details still need to be worked out, but, I suspect that some combination of tax policy and government spending will be used. Other less formal methods of persuasion may be used as well. For example, how much longer will President Obama continue to meet the CEO’s of large corporations who are sending jobs overseas and laying off Americans here at home. I’ll wager that Democrats in both Houses will be raising the same point themselves soon.

The continuing global recession will impact the life sciences sector as well as the rest of the economy. Unfortunately, for life sciences, it’s going to get involved in government policy and funding just like the auto and financial services sectors. (Please see my earlier blogs comparing life sciences to Big Auto.) The old line firms, Big Pharma, have only been deluding themselves for some years now. Cost cutting has maintained profit levels but once patents expire with no new blockbusters to replace them and generics begin to erode market share then some of those companies will start to go away.

Here’s where we may see Big Pharma starting to find ways to hire more people here in the States. Either that or they may begin to break up. Given that CEO’s and their staff are the last ones to realize that the game is over, we’ll probably start to see other desperate measures. Remember that overseas cash that I mentioned earlier? We may see Big Pharma lobbyists trying to get some tax breaks in Washington promising jobs creation or return from abroad in exchange. Of course, the question is what would these people do? Hiring back office people doesn’t add to the bottom line although it may improve employee morale among the existing overworked staff. Hiring sales rep’s only works when there’s something to sell. Hiring R&D types to produce something to sell is not a bad idea, but, given how long it takes to develop new drugs and then do trials, there won’t be any immediate relief here.

In closing, maybe Big Pharma may add jobs to curry favor with a new administration desperate to put people to work, I just don’t think they’ll last.

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Contributed by Guy de Lastin

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