BATON ROUGE, La.—A 74-year history of synthetic rubber manufacturing at the same facility has just ended with the closing and bankruptcy of East West Copolymer L.L.C.
The East West plant in Baton Rouge ceased operations March 31, and on April 7 the company filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings before the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Louisiana.
At press time, the bankruptcy court had scheduled an expedited hearing for April 12 before Judge Douglas Dodd.
The hearing was designed to address several motions before the court, including:
• Continued maintenance of certain bank accounts;
• A motion for extension of time to file schedules and statements;
• Applications for authorization of attorneys for the debtors and chief restructuring officers; and
• A motion to approve compensation and payment to insiders.
In its petition filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, East West Copolymer listed assets of $1 million to $10 million and liabilities of $10 million to $50 million, including $13.5 million owed to Main Street Capital Corp.
A court document also lists the non-insider creditors who have the 20 largest unsecured claims against East West. The amount East West owes these creditors alone totals nearly $12.7 million.
About 110 workers were laid off at the plant in Baton Rouge, according to Mike Matthews, business manager for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 216, which organized the facility.
A maintenance crew will be on site for the next several weeks, performing the necessary shutdown operations such as emptying tanks and pipes, Matthews said.
"It's a sad situation," he said. "At one time it was a real big plant, with maybe 400 people employed there. It's never good when guys lose good-paying jobs."
The Baton Rouge plant began life in 1943 as Copolymer Corp., according to various sources. A group of seven medium-sized tire and rubber companies joined forces under government supervision to create a synthetic alternative to dwindling natural rubber supplies during World War II.
In 1948, Copolymer became the first cold polymerization plant in North America, allowing for better process control and end physical properties of most grades of styrene-butadiene rubber, according to the company website.
When the federal government decided to sell its SR production to private industry in 1955, Copolymer purchased the Baton Rouge plant and began private operation. By 1965, it had added nitrile rubber to its product mix.
The Baton Rouge plant had a number of owners over the years, including Armstrong Rubber Co., Armtek, Mark IV and DSM, which operated the plant as DSM Copolymer until the company became Lion Copolymer in 2005.
In December 2013, Lion Copolymer temporarily shut down the Baton Rouge plant because of poor economic conditions, while simultaneously making further expansions at its EPDM facility in Geismar, La., after having made major expansions there in 2012.
Three months later, Lion Copolymer CEO Greg Nelson joined with Horizons Up Consulting, Alto Cheung of China and seven other former Baton Rouge managers to purchase the facility from Lion Copolymer and reopen it as East West Copolymer.
At the time of reopening, East West had two black masterbatch and two SBR production lines, and also revived production of nitrile rubber.
Nelson could not be reached for comment.
The Louisiana Workforce Commission has deployed its Rapid Response team to help the workers at Baton Rouge find a transition to new opportunities, according to an LWC spokesman.
The LWC held an orientation session April 4 for the East West workers, the spokesman said. Only 13 workers attended, but the Rapid Response team later helped other workers who did not receive their information packets until after the date of the session, he said.
The LWC did not send Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification notices to the East West workers, the spokesman said. Instead, it sent unemployment insurance information, information on available services and contact information for local LWC offices and Rapid Response coordinators, he said.
Lion Copolymer now is known as Lion Elastomers L.L.C. and has operations in Geismar and in Port Neches, Texas.
In July 2016, Lion and East West jointly filed a petition for antidumping duty relief with the International Trade Commission against emulsion SBR imports from Brazil, Mexico, Poland and South Korea. The ITC has scheduled a hearing in the case for June 29.
The ITC determined preliminarily last September that evidence of material injury exists against the U.S. emulsion styrene-butadiene rubber industry because of the ESBR imports.