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MIAMI — Off a gritty bend in the Miami River, a few miles from a warehouse where he recently touted his job-creation plans, there's a complex of buildings that bear witness to a time when Mitt Romney's private equity firm laid off hundreds of workers, shuttered a profitable factory and made out with hundreds of millions of dollars.
It started in 1995, when Romney's Bain Capital targeted the company that became Dade Behring, which made blood-testing machines and performed animal research at its Miami campus.
Bain borrowed heavily to buy the company and closed a factory in Puerto Rico to improve the bottom line. About 400 lost jobs there. Then in 1997, Bain shuttered Dade Behring's Miami operations, costing another 850 jobs and a $30 million payroll in the community.
Before growing debt consumed the company, Bain executed its exit strategy and made $242 million.
"What bothers me most is that Romney's campaign says he was a creator of jobs," said Cindy Hewitt, a Miami resident who was a human resources manager at Dade Behring. "I didn't see that in any way, shape or form. He didn't create jobs. He slashed and burned jobs."
Romney's time at Bain is the backbone of his run for president, the business experience he says is severely lacking in President Barack Obama. He portrays himself as a turnaround specialist, taking poor-performing companies and making them efficient and profitable. He claims to have created 100,000 jobs.
But the Miami experience illustrates the other side of Romney's line of work, a messier reality that has exposed Romney to attacks from rivals seeking the Republican nomination.
Even comedian Stephen Colbert has gotten in the act, running a South Carolina ad that shows a cartoon Romney feeding Dade Behring into a wood-chipper that spits out money.
Next week, the GOP campaign shifts to Florida and already Romney is on the defensive with a TV ad that touts his Bain successes while condemning attacks on the "free market." GOP rival Newt Gingrich says Romney "looted" companies like Dade Behring.
"The Bain model," Gingrich said in a debate Monday night, "is to go in at a very low price, borrow an immense amount of money, pay Bain an immense amount of money and leave. I'll let you decide if that's really good capitalism. I think that's exploitation."