It's premature to call DuPont's Louisville, Ky., neoprene operation ``the plant that wouldn't die.'' But it sure is trying.
In late 2002 then-DuPont Dow Elastomers announced its plan to close the Louisville polychloroprene facility in 2005. The granddaddy of synthetic rubbers had been losing ground for years to other polymers. When Bayer shut down its Houston neoprene plant in 1998, that left DuPont Dow's Louisville and LaPlace, La., facilities as the only producers of the rubber in the Western Hemisphere.
Even that was too much capacity, DuPont Dow decided. It set a fairly distant closing date for the Louisville facility.
By November 2003 DuPont Dow had some second thoughts. The company decided to hold off on the closing until the end of 2006.
Now the plant-solely owned by DuPont, following last year's breakup of its joint venture with Dow Chemical Co.-has gotten another reprieve. DuPont said the facility will remain open until the end of March 2007.
A lot has changed since the original decision to axe the plant. Neoprene hasn't discovered the fountain of youth, and demand in North and South America isn't expected to be revitalized. But polychloroprene supply from Europe was severely curtailed when Polimeri Europa closed its big neoprene plant in France. And the continuation of high tariffs on the material imported from Japan curtails those shipments, to the point Gates Corp. is trying to get the 55-percent antidumping duties repealed.
Then toss in the supply disruption caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The United Steelworkers union local at Louisville has been doing everything it can to buy time or change DuPont officials' minds about closing the operation. The Gates petition helps, although the ITC hasn't made a ruling yet. The union continues to negotiate with DuPont, and has written two Kentucky representatives, Mitch McConnell and Anne Northup, seeking their support. Neither have responded.
What are the chances that the Louisville factory will get another reprieve or a full pardon? Not particularly good. The LaPlace facility has lots of capacity, and demand for neoprene isn't expect to jump.
But who knows: Maybe fate will intercede again.