The new year got off to a rough start in East Baton Rouge parish, with three Zachary-area employers announcing layoffs that will put 824 manufacturing workers out of a job. But the head of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber said Monday that there is still a high demand locally for trained, experienced manufacturing workers.
Adam Knapp said more than 100 employers have signed up to participate in a job fair for Georgia-Pacific workers who were affected by the company’s plans to shut down its office paper manufacturing operations at its Port Hudson mill. The layoffs are expected to affect about 650 employees locally. The job fair will be held Feb. 9 at Zachary High school.
“That’s an incredible sign of just what else is happening in Baton Rouge,” Knapp said during a speech at the Press Club of Baton Rouge. Many of the businesses participating in the job fair are from outside of East Baton Rouge Parish.
That’s important because 44 percent of the workers at the Port Hudson mill are from outside the parish.
“Regionalism can not only help us be stronger as an economic development community, but it can cushion setbacks,” he said.
Depending on where they work in the paper mill, the workers affected by the Georgia-Pacific mill layoffs may find it fairly straightforward to find a new job. People who worked in the manufacturing process will have an easier time finding employment. Those who handled equipment maintenance and upkeep will see their skills are needed across the community. Knapp noted those maintenance and upkeep workers got the same training at Baton Rouge Community College as people working in petrochemical plants.
“Even if they don’t have a direct correlation with a job, a well-trained, skilled employee base can find a home with a lot of different types of employers,” he said. The state plans to set up training programs to help those workers make transitions.
Along with the Georgia-Pacific layoffs, BASF announced it was closing a specialty chemical plant in Zachary and Thompson Pipe Group said it is consolidating its operations in Texas. The BASF plant has 54 employees, while Thompson has 120 local workers.
BASF has its largest North American manufacturing facility in nearby Geismar. The company is working to transition as many of the Zachary workers over to that facility. Thompson is also working to move as many workers as possible to Texas.
There are a number of other pipe manufacturers in metro Baton Rouge that are hiring workers, such as Turner Industries and Stupp. “They’re all looking for the same kinds of employees,” Knapp said.
The hope is that local companies can pick up many of the workers who lost their jobs and the impact of the layoffs will be a “blip,” Knapp said. The Thompson site is also a candidate to be redeveloped by another small manufacturer.
While the news of the layoffs have dominated headlines, Knapp said Baton Rouge has a “very resilient economy." Over the past year, the area has added 5,700 jobs and unemployment remains at a modest 4 percent.
“We’re headed in the right direction and we have a lot of what we need for continued progress,” he said.