Abbott closes Gurnee plant, lets go 2,000 workers as demand for COVID-19 tests drops

After eight months, Abbott Laboratories' rapid COVID-19 test manufacturing and assembly facility in Gurnee has run its course due to a steep decline in demand.

An estimated 2,000 workers were told Tuesday their assignments at the plant had ended and they should no longer report to work.

“We've recently seen a significant, rapid decline in COVID-19 testing demand and anticipate this trend will continue,” Abbott spokesman Scott Stoffel said Wednesday. “We're decommissioning the site now.”

Millions of Abbott's BinaxNow tests were made and assembled at the 255,000-square-foot building at 605 Tri-State Parkway.

As the pandemic escalated last year, Abbott approached the village about using the building. Beginning in early May 2020, the Lake County-based company made a significant investment for its operations, which began in September.

At the time, a fast-track campaign was launched to fill 2,000 positions. The jobs didn't require previous experience and paid $15 an hour for the day shift and $18 an hour for nights, village officials said at the time.

The village was notified Tuesday that operations would cease immediately, said Jack Linehan, assistant village administrator.

Stoffel declined to provide the current number of employees, but said all would be paid for the full week.

Manpower, a Waukegan-based employment agency, told workers it had been notified Tuesday morning by Abbott that the Gurnee project was considered completed effective immediately.

The news followed an updated economic outlook Tuesday by Abbott that noted the drop in recent and projected demand for COVID tests.

“This has been driven by several factors, including significant reductions in cases in the U.S. and other major developed countries, accelerated rollout of COVID-19 vaccines globally and, most recently, U.S. health authority guidance on testing for fully vaccinated individuals,” the company said in a news release.

Aside from COVID-19 tests, growth is accelerating and its new product pipeline continues to be “highly productive,” Abbott president and CEO Robert B. Ford said in the release.

The Gurnee jobs came at a crucial time, according to Kevin Considine, president and CEO of Lake County partners, the county's development arm.

“I'm super grateful for the thousands of jobs at the height of the pandemic when the county really needed them,” he said. “They were a godsend.”

Considine said he believes the Gurnee operation was intended to be temporary and didn't think anyone, including employees, thought it would be permanent.

“Over 2,000 jobs at a time we were seeing record unemployment — it was a gift,” he added. “It was impactful for sure.”

There is need around throughout Lake County for workers to fill available jobs in fields ranging from restaurants to manufacturing, and Considine expects those seeking work would find it quickly.

Abbott leased this building in Gurnee to produce rapid COVID-19 tests. Operations ended Tuesday due to a steep drop in demand. Courtesy of Abbott Laboratories
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