No community wants, in about a week’s time, to hear about more than 800 layoffs of good-paying manufacturing jobs, such as the loss suffered recently in the Zachary-Port Hudson area of Baton Rouge.
But the parish and the region are stepping up, hoping to place many of the laid-off workers locally.
Adam Knapp of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber said Monday that there is still a high demand locally for trained, experienced manufacturing workers. Businesses responded readily to a BRAC call for a job fair for the displaced workers; Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and state government agencies have worked to provide help.
Along with the Georgia-Pacific layoffs, more than 600 jobs, 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, but as Knapp said, we hope that many will be able to find work in the capital region.
Manufacturing process jobs are always in demand, and the vast petrochemical region down the Mississippi River requires maintenance and upkeep — similar skills to those of workers at the closing 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,” Knapp said. The state plans to set up training programs to help those workers make transitions.
If there is some good news in this, it is that the nine-parish region has a “very resilient economy with a strong foundation for progress,” having weathered the years of the 2008 financial collapse and other grave disruptions before.
The area added 5,700 jobs in the last year and unemployment is at 3.9 percent, quite low historically. “We’re headed in the right direction and we have a lot of what we need for continued progress,” Knapp said.
Over the last decade, median household income has risen 29 percent, a higher rate than peer cities in the South and higher than the United States as a whole.
At the same time, as Knapp has also emphasized in the debate over industrial tax exemptions, good-paying manufacturing jobs punch above their numbers in terms of contributing to the local economy.
As many as eight or nine other jobs are supported by the higher rates of pay in manufacturing generally. Those ripple effects are significant, making it more important that the region’s employers are able to keep good workers here, on the job.