Albemarle is moving more of its operations to North Carolina as a closure looms for its downtown Baton Rouge office, where about 200 workers are housed by the specialty chemical maker.

Albemarle executives told workers about the move on Monday. The exact number of workers leaving Baton Rouge is not known at this time, said spokeswoman Susan Richardson. The lease on Albemarle's downtown office expires in late 2021.

Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson said Albemarle's $5.7 billion acquisition in 2015 of Rockwood Holdings, a major lithium producer, set the stage for Albemarle's corporate headquarters relocation to Charlotte to be near those operations.

"Essentially, this is another step in the move that began in 2015," Pierson said.

LED didn't get a chance to convince Albemarle to keep its headquarters and those jobs here, he said.

Albemarle is adding a new campus in Kings Mountain, North Carolina — the site of its lithium-only production facility — to house its integrated business operations and engineering functions. The company announced Monday in Charlotte that it is adding 170 jobs at Kings Mountain and 30 jobs in its Charlotte headquarters.

"The Tower" at 451 Florida St. in Baton Rouge is currently the service center for Albemarle's corporate functions, which include engineering, information technology and logistics, according to the company's website. 

It has been nearly two years since Albemarle announced it was moving its corporate headquarters from Baton Rouge to Charlotte. The company made the move last year. At the time, Albemarle officials said the company would still have about 500 employees in Baton Rouge: 250 downtown providing support operations and a similar number doing research and development and manufacturing operations at its Process Development Center on Gulf States Road.

Pierson said LED has every reason to believe Albemarle will continue operating the research and development and production facilities.

Adam Knapp, president and chief executive officer of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, said Albemarle's decision to leave downtown Baton Rouge was disappointing, but not entirely unexpected after the company decided to move its headquarters out of the city.

"Today’s announcement underscores the importance of continued focus on economic development as well as a continued focus on existing companies in the region, as transitions occur all the time,” Knapp said.

At one point, Albemarle took up 10 floors of the 21-story Chase South Tower and had more than 600 employees in the building. In recent years, the company's footprint downtown has dwindled. 

“We’re sorry to see them go, they’ve made a great contribution to the city over the years,” said Davis Rhorer, executive director of the Downtown Development District. Rhorer said the DDD will work with the owners of the building to find tenants for space being vacated by Albemarle.

The company’s decision to reduce its Baton Rouge presence is just one of those sorts of things that happens in the private sector, when cities compete to host corporate headquarters, Rhorer said. He noted that downtown remains busy, despite Albemarle’s decision to leave. The Water Campus, a public-private development that aims to be an international center for coastal education and research, is under construction on Nicholson Drive, between downtown and LSU. By the end of the year about 400 people are expected to be working in the facility and more tenants are in the works.

On Monday North Carolina approved a $4.3 million grant for Albemarle, paid over 12 years, if the company creates the required jobs there, according to the Charlotte Observer. The headquarters relocation was cinched in 2015 with the help of a $2 million state incentives package.

Richardson said Tuesday that the latest move builds on Albemarle's continued transformation.

In the past few years, Albemarle has more than doubled market capital, expanded its global footprint, integrated new teams, added capacity, divested non-core assets and relocated its corporate headquarters, she said.

Albemarle now has three main lines of business:

• Lithum used in batteries, glasses, lubricants and chemicals.

• Refining solutions, which are the catalysts used in oil refining.

• Bromine specialties, whose applications include flame retardants for electronics and construction materials, water treatment, plastics and synthetic rubber.

The latest move means more jobs will move from Baton Rouge to Kings Mountain and other Albemarle sites during the next several years, she said.

Baton Rouge served as Albemarle's corporate headquarters from 2008 to 2016, after a move from Richmond, Virginia, in exchange for an estimated $7.9 million in state and local incentives. Before officially declaring Baton Rouge as its headquarters, the city had long been an administrative office center for Albemarle. Formerly a Virginia paper manufacturer, Albemarle entered Baton Rouge in 1962 with a $200 million purchase of the Ethyl Corp., a name it assumed until the specialty chemical business was spun off as Albemarle Corp. in 1994.

Becoming the official Albemarle headquarters in 2008 brought 30 high-salaried employees and an additional $7 million in annual payroll to Baton Rouge, while retaining approximately $43 million in existing payroll, Pierson said. Albemarle exceeded its job and payroll obligations to the state for the corporate headquarters relocation. The company also invested more than $26 million in new headquarters, production and research and development project expansions over that period, he said.

Follow Ted Griggs on Twitter, @tedgriggsbr.

Advocate business writer Timothy Boone contributed to this report.