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Editorial: Re-opening of SBR factory is great news

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Apparently it's true that you should never say never—even in the rubber industry. When Lion Copolymer L.L.C. said in early December that it was “temporarily closing” its SBR plant in Baton Rouge, La., it was widely assumed that the facility was done.

But then whispers started to circulate that there was a potential deal in the works that would save the plant. Lion Copolymer CEO Greg Nelson was said to be trying to put together a deal that would get the factory back in operation.

That word became official as Nelson did indeed strike a deal with his former employer that will have the historic facility once again pumping out SBR in the near future. He teamed with seven former managers at the facility, along with Horizons Up Consulting and Alto Cheung of China to reach the tentative deal to buy the facility.

The SBR factory spans the 70-year history of the synthetic rubber industry. There have been many owners and now you can add East West Copolymer & Rubber L.L.C. to the names that have adorned the old plant.

Of course, reaching the deal is just the first step. Making the operation a success won't be easy. The officials know that upgrades to capital equipment will be necessary. It's also a tough business where material pricing can be volatile and margins tight.

But the new owners have a lot going for them as well. They moved fast, so the plant hasn't been out of the game for long. They got their key people back, and Nelson said the plan is to run the SBR site as a union shop—as it did before—so the work force will be ready to step right back in.

An up-to-date pilot plant also will help in developing new grades for customers. The owners are starting small and building up as business dictates. Plans to begin producing NBR and other materials will help bring new opportunities.

Perhaps most importantly, customers said they want them to be in business. They know the product and the team, and in the end, relationships still matter in rubber.