Economic stress hits home: Dow eliminated 140 jobs

Deidre Cruse

The Dow Chemical Company is cutting nearly 10 percent of its workforce at the Plaquemine Plant, company officials announced Friday.

Some 140 of the 1,500 Dow workers will lose their jobs at the local plant, said Stacey Chiasson of Dow Public Affairs.

Those are considered to be permanent “job eliminations,” she said, adding that many of the workers affected are eligible for either full or partial retirement benefits.

Some 300 contract workers laid off from the plant since November might be rehired later depending on business conditions, she said. The number of contract workers has been reduced from 1,500 to 1,200. (All but essential contract workers were laid off from mid-December through January in a cost-cutting move.)

For several years, Dow has been implementing a corporate “transformation,” moving away from bulk chemical production and into producing more mixed products, Chiasson said.

“It was escalated by the economic crisis,” she said. “We’re having to make some moves more quickly.”

The company is not looking at deeper cuts in the local workforce right now, Chiasson said.

“The decision to eliminate jobs is one we never take lightly,” Dow Site Director Sharon Cole said in a statement. “But, today, for Dow, it is a step we must take to ensure our company continues to thrive and perform. At Louisiana Operations in Plaquemine, the impact was approximately 10 percent, consistent with our corporate reduction target that was communicated in December.

“Our focus on financial discipline, growth opportunities and shareholder value is what will make us a source of new opportunities for our people and partners in the years ahead,” Cole said in her statement last week.

Dow announced in December that it would close 20 of its facilities and cut 5,000 jobs worldwide. Later, the company announced the Plaquemine plant’s   TYRIN Chlorinated Polyethylene (CPE) unit and a feeder unit as part of company-wide plan would be among the cuts.

Also in December, Dow announced a “milestone in its operational transformation,” a joint venture with Petrochemical Industries Company of Kuwait. When that deal fell through, it reportedly left Dow without the $15.4 billion it needed to buy out a specialty chemical company, Rohm and Haase.

“They won’t let me speak to that,” Chiasson said when asked how the collapse of the Kuwaiti deal affected the local plant.

Dow is Iberville Parish’s largest employer and taxpayer, and one driver of the local economy.

Chiasson said she often is asked if the company is going to shut its doors here.

“Dow has a strong balance sheet right now as a company,” she said, plus a good credit rating. “We’re doing what we have to do in order for Dow to sustain and thrive.”

The fact that many of the workers will leave with retirement benefits is good news, Chiasson said.

“We have a very mature workforce in Plaquemine,” she said. “When you look at people being impacted, it’s fair to say that a good many people are retirement-eligible. Many will leave with retirement benefits...That should ease the burden to the regional economy. Those people are still spending money.”

The company is not saying how much of its local payroll will be lost, or how many of the workers are eligible for retirement, she said.

Although the cuts are expected to affect the local economy, Iberville Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Hank Grace pointed to several business developments expected over the next few months that should boost local conditions.

The French chemical company SNF Floerger SAS is interested in building a $350 million project in the Plaquemine area, while the Japanese company Shin-Etsu is in the final stage of building a $1.9 million U. S. Subsidiary Shintech plant south of Plaquemine.

Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. said the Floerger plant would mean 300 new jobs.

Grace also pointed to the extension of Enterprise Boulevard that will create a “loop” around Plaquemine and draw interest from retailers interested in locating here.

(POST/SOUTH editor Tryve Brackin contributed to this story.)