As company exits film business, plants will close in Norwood, Waltham
By Hiawatha Bray
Globe Staff / February 8, 2008
Polaroid Corp., the Massachusetts company that gave the world instant film photography, is shutting down its film manufacturing lines in the state and abandoning the technology that made the company famous.
“The Norwood plant is shutting down, and we will soon be winding down activities at the Waltham facility as well,” said Kyle MacDonald, senior vice president of Polaroid’s instant photography business segment. The closures, set for completion during this quarter, will eliminate about 150 jobs. In the late 1970s, Polaroid employed about 15,000 in Massachusetts.
The Norwood and Waltham plants make large-format films used by professional photographers and artists. Polaroid also makes professional-grade films in Mexico, and its consumer film packs come from a factory in the Netherlands. All these plants are slated for closure this year. Polaroid chief operating officer Tom Beaudoin said the company is interested in licensing its technology to an outside firm that could manufacture film for faithful Polaroid customers. If that doesn’t happen, Polaroid users would have to find an alternative photo technology, as the company plans to make only enough film to last into next year.
Polaroid has already quietly halted production of instant cameras. “We stopped making commercial-type cameras about 18 to 24 months ago, and we stopped making consumer cameras about a year ago,” said Beaudoin.
“It’s about time,” said Ron Glaz, director of digital imaging program at IDC Corp. “The fact that they’re getting out of film makes complete sense.”
In the years following World War II, Polaroid’s instant photography products established the company as one of Massachusetts’ leading industrial concerns, and made its brand name famous worldwide. But in the late 1980s the company went deeply into debt to fend off a hostile takeover. It invested heavily in products that failed and was unprepared for the surging popularity of digital cameras. By 2001, Polaroid was forced into bankruptcy; privately held Petters Group Worldwide of Minnetonka, Minn., bought the company’s remaining assets in 2005.
The Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development is providing employment assistance to laid-off workers, some of whom were warned about the cuts two years ago. Along with standard job-placement services, the state agency joined with Worcester Polytechnic Institute last year to retrain laid-off Polaroid workers for manufacturing jobs at biotechnology companies. About 30 workers have been retrained under the program so far.
The company will retain about 150 executive and administrative employees at its headquarters in Concord and a smaller office in Waltham. “We’ll continue to have a strong presence in Massachusetts for the next 30 or 40 years,” said Beaudoin. But Polaroid will now focus on flat-panel TVs and digital photography gear.
Polaroid has also struck an alliance with Zink Imaging Inc. of Bedford, a company founded by former Polaroid scientists and executives. Zink makes a system that generates pocket-sized prints of digital photos. Polaroid will begin selling Zink photo printers under its brand name this year.
Ed Lee, a digital photography analyst at InfoTrends Inc. in Weymouth, said the Zink printer could have a bright future in the long run. But he said the current model, which produces images about the size of a business card, probably won’t appeal to the mass market. “I don’t see a lot of people using it for printing photos that will wind up in photo albums,” he said.
IDC’s Glaz added that sales of home photo printers have slowed in recent years. He said today’s consumers prefer to look at photos on their computer screens, and are more likely to say, “E-mail that to me, rather than give me a hard copy.”