JACKSON COUNTY — Bad business news on the Coast has come in bunches lately. April business news included the bankruptcies of Friede Goldman Halter and a subsidiary of President’s Casino, President Broadwater Hotel, LLC. And three major employers in Jackson County announced closings, the 73-year-old International Paper (IP) mill in Moss Point, Rohm & Haas, also in Moss Point, and AMI (formerly Swingster) in Ocean Springs.
The largest job losses were at IP, where 375 workers will lose their jobs by the end of June as a result of the shutdown blamed on the old mill being unable to compete with newer, more cost-effective paper mills. Besides the impact from losing the jobs, Jackson County officials were particularly concerned with the shutdown at IP because the company currently pays about 12% of the taxes for the Moss Point School District.
“I have great remorse about the loss of jobs there,” said Frank Leach, president of the Jackson County Board of Supervisors. “Further than the direct economic impact is concern about the Moss Point School District more than anything because it will certainly affect them gravely. That is a significant portion of their tax base.”
Employment at the Moss Point mill has declined from 950 about five years ago. IP officials said the company will try to transfer as many employees as possible to other plants in Mississippi and in other states. The Moss Point mill produces bleached paperboard products used to make greeting cards, frozen food cartons, paperback book covers and other products.
Mill Manager Ed Locke said IP isn’t planning to either sell the plant or reopen it. Jobs are expected to be phased out over a 60-day period.
Rohm and Haas Company, a chemical plant, will be losing 140 employees by the end of the year as a result of a decision to close the company’s liquid polysulfide and insulated glass businesses. Liquid polysulfide is the plant’s principal product and is used as a high-performance construction sealant and jet fuel tank sealant. It is also used by window manufacturers to bind together multiple layers of insulated glass.
The remaining 80 jobs at the plant are also up in the air. Dan Hicks, manager of communications and public affairs for Rohm and Haas, said that the other product lines would have to support the infrastructure and overhead costs of the facility alone after the liquid polysulfide portion of the business is closed. He said it was doubtful those jobs could be saved. The company plans to make a decision on their future manufacturing at the site by June.
“I know this decision comes as a great shock and disappointment to everyone at Moss Point,” said Jane Bowen, plant manager of the Moss Point facility. “Unfortunately, no amount of effort to improve productivity at the plant or reduce operating costs could overcome the realities of the eroding business and substantial capital investment required to continue to manufacture these products at Moss Point.”
The company said the liquid polysulfide and insulated glass sales have been declining due to competing technologies, plus the company said it would have taken a substantial capital investment at Moss Point to bring the facility up to acceptable manufacturing standards.
The company will continue to manufacture liquid polysulfide through mid-December. The Moss Point plant opened in 1952 and became part of Rohm and
Haas Company with the acquisition of Morton Chemicals in 1999. The Moss Point site also includes the Shipley, Moss Point facility, the company’s electronic materials subsidiary. Jobs at Shipley are secure, and there is even a possibility of an expansion. Hicks said Moss Point is an important part of the future manufacturing strategy of the electronics materials business and will likely increase production at Moss Point as that business grows.
Jobs in Jackson County have also been lost with the closing of the former Swingster jacket plant, now known as American Marketing Industries (AMI). About 116 workers are being laid off June 4. The company said all employees will be eligible for a separation package including severance pay, insurance benefits and outplacement.
When asked the reason for the closing, a local representative of the company said, “Made in Mexico.”
Steve McMullen, president of Dunbrooke Industries Inc., parent company of AMI, cited soft jacket sales and a decline in domestic jacket demand as the reasons for the closing. The company has other operations in Iowa, South Dakota and Nebraska that were not affected by the plant closing in Ocean Springs.
Roger Mack, Pascagoula office manager, said there won’t be local job opportunities for all of the laid off workers with so many jobs being lost at the same time.
“It is going to present a problem,” Mack said. “We are scheduling meetings with the workers to familiarize them with their options. There is a possibility that we will hold a job fair. Nothing definite has been planned. This has all just occurred.”
Earlier layoffs at Friede Goldman Halter have also been a concern, but Mack said they aren’t currently seeing a large number of layoffs from Friede Goldman. He said some of the workers laid off earlier have gone back to work, and other workers were placed in jobs with other companies after out-of-state firms came to recruit. Friede Goldman officials said their bankruptcy was not resulting in layoffs at the present time.
George Freeland, who been hired as director of economic development for Jackson County, said the layoffs show the importance of the long-term priority of the Jackson County Economic Development Foundation to assist with existing industry retention and expansion.
“Part of our mission here entails support for and creating a competitive environment for our industry to operate within,” Freeland said. “Economic development is about more than marketing and new business attraction. Retention of existing industries is a priority.”
Freeland said the county has a shortage of industrial development sites, and will need to have sites available to be competitive and attract new investment. Having just come on the job as the county’s new economic development director, Freeland said he hasn’t been in contact with principals of the businesses that are closing. But he is hopeful there are possibilities to reuse the existing facilities.
“From an economic development perspective, we have to view this as an opportunity for reinvestment and possible reuse of these facilities,” Freeland said.
He said the availability of skilled labor represented by the workers who have lost their jobs is also a potential plus in attracting new industries to the area, particularly because a tight labor market has made it difficult to recruit and retain employees.
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org or (228) 872-3457.