Officials look to help employees who will be impacted by Koppers closure

FOLLANSBEE — Another Ohio Valley manufacturing site is set to close its doors, and area officials are preparing to find ways to assist its employees and possibly even locate a future tenant.

The 48 employees of the Koppers facility in Follansbee are expected to be off the job by Aug. 4, officials announced Monday during a meeting of Follansbee Council. Plant decommissioning and cleanup is expected to last through the end of 2020.

City Manager John DeStefano noted that for the past four to five years, Koppers’ management has been discussing closing the plant.

“This will have an effect on the community,” said DeStefano. “Things like this always do. It has a trickle-down effect because there are so many factors to consider like property tax, water usage and of course the employees working there.”

However, Destefano is hopeful about the future of the property.

“It is well located between a few proposed cracker plants,” DeStefano said.

Pat Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, said the group has been in contact with both Koppers’ management and the Workforce Investment Board.

“Our focus right now is on the employees and to ensure a seamless transition for those employees who want to remain in the area and put their highly marketable, and much-needed, skills to use,”said Ford.

Ford noted that a commitment has been made between Koppers and the State of West Virginia so that Koppers will continue to provide training for their employees in order for them to continue growing in the field.

In addition, the Workforce Investment Board will have measures in place to continue employee training and to assist in job placement.

The plant, located on a 33-acre site along the Ohio River, is capable of converting coke oven tars into chemical oil, naphthalene, middle distillate oils, refined tars, and various grades of coal tar pitch, according to the Koppers website.

“Ultimately, this closing will affect 48 employees,” said Ford. “However, this is not at all a reflection on the employees or the City of Follansbee.”

Koppers expects to take pre-tax charges in the second quarter of $4 million to $6 million related to the closure and clean-up costs at the facility, reports indicated.

The decision to close the Follansbee Koppers plant is part of the company’s strategy to reduce its carbon chemicals operations and to focus on wood treatment products and chemicals.

“This decision is triggered from the global economy,” added Ford. “Koppers has reduced the number of plants from 11 to four.”

Ford also noted that the BDC is working with prospect buyers that have experts and interest in the site. He added that the Northern Panhandle area of “rapid industrialism” is promising for the future purposes of the plant.

“Other employers, and prospects looking to locate in our area, are screaming for employees of the caliber of the Koppers’ employees,” Ford said. “The employees at the Follansbee facility have been loyal, reliable, productive, cross-trained, and hard-working.”

(Linder can be contacted at tlinder@heraldstaronline.com)

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