AN American medical firm that announced a 250 jobs boost to a Government fanfare has put its plans on hold.
Heart-device company Abiomed was credited with "pumping life" into the midlands when the Tanaiste announced, this time last year, that it would set up a new global manufacturing facility in Westmeath. The firm that "fixes broken hearts" said it would take on highly skilled workers with mechanical, electrical and polymer engineering experience and skills at a new plant in Athlone.
But it has emerged that the major recruitment drive has been halted, with just a handful of employees, including a general manager, already hired at the plant.
The midlands town has already been hit by a reversal in plans to create 300 jobs after a receiver was appointed to the Pharmaplaz Technology Park this month.
The park that was opened by former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern four years ago was designed to help pharmaceutical companies to avail of tax breaks.
It was set up by former Elan production manager Michael Macken to house companies seeking a base in Ireland but ran into problems with a US company that claimed it was owed almost $8m (€5.6m).
Abiomed's decision to suspend its expansion is a another blow for the town in less than a month. A spokesperson for the Massachusetts-based company confirmed yesterday that the project was on-hold due to the "tough economy".
"Yes, we have decided to put the Athlone project on-hold," she said. "We are not shutting it down or moving out of Ireland.
"We will maintain the Athlone building lease and secure the production equipment to meet future expansion needs. In this tough economy, we have to conserve our cash.
"This means getting the most out of our current facilities before making further investments in the additional facility."
The IDA said Abiomed's "ramp up" was not happening as quickly as expected but it was glad to hear that the company was not closing down.
"We're just hoping things will pickup," said a spokesperson.
Tanaiste Mary Coughlan, who last year announced the US firm would create 250 jobs over the next five years, would not comment on the latest development last night.
Her spokesman said the circumstances in which Abiomed operates had changed and they needed to review their global business model. The 33,000sq ft Athlone facility was to be responsible for the manufacture of the Impella product range that assists or replaces the heart's pumping function.
Speaking at the time of the announcement, the Tanaiste said Abiomed's investment was "excellent news for Athlone and for Ireland".
"We faced strong global competition for the investment and it is a fantastic result for Ireland," she said.