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MicroCal to close its Northampton facility, 40 employees affected

General Electric Healthcare, which bought MicroCal in 2009, is preparing to transfer all activities at the Northampton facility to other company sites, spokesman Benjamin Fox said in a statement.

Fox said GE Healthcare is making the changes to streamline its structure and best position the company for long-term growth. While the transition will reduce complexity and maximize efficiency, the company said it also recognizes it will affect many employees in the Northampton area.

“GE Healthcare regrets the loss of any job, even as the business needs to make tough decisions in challenging economic times,” Fox said in the statement.

The company will offer affected employees comprehensive support to identify other positions either in or outside of GE, as well as income extension aid and other benefits, he said.

The changes at MicroCal come shortly after two other longtime area businesses announced plans to close, leaving another 70 local people looking for work.

Amherst Woodworking & Supply Inc. said in April that it intended to close its 38-year-old business in the Northampton Industrial Park this month, a move that will affect about 30 employees.

Meanwhile, Jenoptik Optical Systems in Easthampton shut its 35-year-old plant at 1 Industrial Parkway late last month and consolidated operations to Jupiter, Fla. That brought an end to 39 local jobs.

GE Healthcare acquired MicroCal in the fall of 2008 as a way to expand its offering of technologies for the rapidly growing areas of protein science and drug discovery research. At the time, MicroCal employed 75 people, had estimated revenues of about $28 million and was growing at a rate of more than 25 percent a year.

Company officials in 2007 told the Gazette they planned to expand MicroCal’s building in the industrial park at 22 Industrial Drive East and add 20 scientists to a staff of 60 people, 45 of whom worked in Northampton at the time.

MicroCal makes sensitive heat-measuring devices for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to help discover and develop new drugs. The company sells its shoebox-size microcalorimeter devices throughout the world. MicroCal makes two types of microcalorimeters, one primarily for pharmaceutical companies and the other for biotechnology companies.

A microcalorimeter measures the heat of chemical reactions, and is used to study the binding of small molecules such as those found in traditional drugs to larger molecules such as proteins. The heats of binding are measured to a few billionths of a degree.

Like many technology companies, MicroCal began as a university professor’s research project. In 1977, John Brandts, a professor of biophysics at the University of Massachusetts, created a microcalorimeter for his own research. His scientific articles about the machines piqued the interest of customers, and a company began in his basement.

The GE Healthcare Life Sciences team employs nearly 2,700 people across the United States, including operations in Marlborough and Westborough, as well as in Piscataway, N.J., and elsewhere.

With headquarters in England, GE Healthcare is an $18 billion unit of General Electric Co.

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