Visitors to Lanxess Corp.'s research center in Naugatuck, Conn., have no way to visualize what the historic site must have looked like in its heyday, when it was part of a true rubber industry town.
The U.S. Rubber Co. (later renamed Uniroyal Inc.) at one time operated nearly 40 buildings on the 88-acre site, as its synthetic rubber and chemicals operation employed as many as 1,500. And that was dwarfed by the rubber giant's footwear factories dominating downtown, with as many as 8,000 workers.
But now all that remains on the 88 acres is the Naugatuck Research Center, Lanxess' main technology center in the U.S. It includes the Elm Street and Spencer Street laboratories, housing 60 scientists and engineers focusing on R&D to support the lubricant additives, flame retardants and urethanes businesses.
Outside the entrance to the Elm Street lab is a National Historic Chemical Landmark from the American Chemical Society. That marker was put there in 1998 as a reminder that U.S. Rubber was one of five companies that were part of the U.S. Synthetic Rubber Program during World War II to develop SR because the natural rubber supply from Southeast Asia was cut off at the beginning of the war.
The Naugatuck plant was where emulsion SBR was made, according to Dave Sikora, head of the Naugatuck Research Center. But all that is left now is the facility's foundation.
Over the years, Uniroyal and its presence dwindled in Naugatuck, the city also tied to work of Charles Goodyear, who discovered the vulcanization process that paved the way for the modern rubber industry.
Uniroyal began shutting down its shoe factories in the 1970s. At the SR and chemicals site, the firm discontinued SR production in Naugatuck in the early 1980s.
After a number of ownership changes, the chemicals complex employed only 230 in 2001 when then-owner Crompton Corp. said it would shut down manufacturing in Naugatuck, leaving just 65 R&D and technical service jobs. Crompton demolished 35 production buildings on the site.
But the future of the Naugatuck Research Center looks bright, with Lanxess gaining the lab sites in its 2017 acquisition of Chemtura Corp.
Sikora said Chemtura invested about $10 million in the two remaining buildings several years back so it could bring them up to standards and move labs from leased space in nearby Middlebury, Conn. Another $800,000 investment built flame retardant labs for synthesis and application testing.
He and other Lanxess officials said plans are in the works to turn much of the Naugatuck site over to the city, but that Lanxess will continue to own about 8 acres of contiguous land around each of the buildings. Enough land will be kept in case the chemicals firm decides it needs to expand and build another laboratory, as the labs currently are at capacity.
So for the foreseeable future there will be at least a small footprint as a reminder of what once was.