HANK DANISZEWSKI, LONDON FREE PRESS REPORTER,
AUGUST 31, 2006
SARNIA — Once a giant in Sarnia’s Chemical Valley, Dow Chemical Canada is pulling out of the city by the end of 2008, putting 380 people out of work.
The announcement shocked union and municipal officials and blindsided Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, who was in Sarnia Thursday opening a new ethanol plant.
Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley said the closing will strike a nerve in the community where Dow has been a major corporate player for decades.
“It’s a shock and I’m extremely angry. I hope to meet with Dow officials when emotions have calmed down,” Bradley said.
“I think it is a real blow to the valley because Dow has a long history here,” said 35-year company veteran Jim Jeffery. “A lot of people have worked there over the years, thousands and thousands, and Dow has had a place in the community. It is the end of an era.”
Bob Huget, vice-president of the Energy, Communications and Paperworkers union, demanded an immediate meeting with Bradley and McGuinty to stop the closing.
“The quality of the jobs provided and the economic benefit to that community is worth fighting for, one more time,” said Huget who once worked in the Chemical Valley and served as an NDP MPP for Sarnia.
Dow also announced Thursday it is shutting two facilities in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., that make pulp and paper chemicals, eliminating 170 jobs.
Dow established its first plant in Sarnia in 1942 and once employed as many as 1,400 people. But the company has been steadily shedding jobs and closing production units since the early 90s.
Dow site leader Glen Mutscher admitted the closing of the entire facility was a total shock to employees gathered for the announcement.
“I guess the best description would be – you could feel the air go out of the room,” he said.
There were no details on the timing of layoffs.
Mutscher explained Dow was forced to shut down the entire facility because plant officials could not get adequate supplies of ethylene, a byproduct of natural gas which is a key raw material for the polyethylene unit.
Dow had been supplied with ethylene through a pipeline from western Canada. In March, BP officials warned Dow that shipments from the pipeline had to be suspended for safety reasons.
Jeff Johnson, president of Dow Chemical Canada, said the company scrambled to find alternative supplies.
“We looked for all other sources, rail, marine and other pipeline mechanisms. We did not find other options,” he said.
Johnson said closing the polyethylene plant had a domino effect, making all the other operations at the site non-competitive.
Bradley was skeptical about Dow’s explanation of the closing, saying it might be part of a corporate strategy to consolidating Dow facilities in nearby Midland, Mich.
The Dow announcement comes just one day after news that 380 auto parts jobs in the Stratford-St. Marys area were disappearing, raising fears that Ontario’s manufacturing sector is crumbling.
Dow has shut down more than 50 manufacturing facilities worldwide in the past three years.