BATON ROUGE, La.—The emulsion SBR plant in Baton Rouge that Lion Copolymer L.L.C. closed last December is restarting as East West Copolymer & Rubber L.L.C.
Greg Nelson, CEO of Lion Copolymer for six years starting in 2008, Horizons Up Consulting and Alto Cheung of China, along with seven other former managers at the Baton Rouge plant have signed a tentative agreement to purchase the facility from Lion Copolymer. The new owners are wasting no time in reviving the facility before the sale is concluded in a couple of weeks.
"As of this week, we're in full mode of getting it going," Nelson said Feb. 28. He and Plant Manager Bobby Rikhoff discussed the reopening at the firm's office and plant complex in Baton Rouge.
Getting the facility back in operation quickly is vital, they said, to reassure customers and secure the needed staff.
"The employees are excited (about the reopening), Rikhoff said. "They've been on hold for several weeks and months." Nelson said EW Copolymer will start with a smaller staff, "but pretty much the same employees who were here" when the site closed.
"I was personally afraid if we kept the plant down longer, we would lose a lot of that talent. We'll have people who know the plant, know how to run it," he said.
The Baton Rouge facility has two black masterbatch and two clear SBR lines, and all will be operational. With lower demand at startup, Rikhoff said two lines will be in production, and the site will be staffed to fit that level for this year.
EW Copolymer also will revive its production of nitrile rubber.
"Nitrile will be a key part of our strategy," Nelson said. "We've tried to make nitrile the last couple of years, but we're going to be more dedicated to making that grade than in the past."
The facility produced NBR for 30 years, then made it for a time for Zeon Chemicals Inc. It had a non-compete requirement with Zeon for two years after the toll agreement ended. HNBR also will be made.
Nelson said the new business will broaden its profile, offering other products and grades. "That's one of our strategies. It's difficult to be in the rubber business with just SBR," he said.
Rikhoff said under Lion Copolymer, the Baton Rouge pilot plant recently was rebuilt at a cost of several million dollars. "We want to use that," he said, to help meet customers' needs. "We think that will really help us become more valuable to our customers, and become sustainable. Otherwise we'll be a price player, not a value player," Nelson said.
A key operational strategy for the company is to become the lowest cost producer. "We've got an opportunity to do that. In a sense, we can run the plant with a lot more flexibility than in the past," Nelson said.