March 4, 2009
Neal Wagner -
A large cement manufacturing plant on Highway 45 Alternate in Artesia will be closed indefinitely, terminating about 113 positions at the facility, according to a company report released this morning.
The Holcim cement plant, which has been operating in Artesia for more than 25 years, will shut down sometime in late May or early June, said Joe Higgins, chief executive officer of the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link.
"It is my understanding that they will shut down in about 90 days," Higgins said. "They said they will stay closed until the economy warrants them opening back up again."
All of the plant''s employees Tuesday received a 90-day layoff notice, Higgins added.
"I think everyone at the plant got the layoff notice," Higgins said. "But I was talking with (Plant Manager) James (Boyd) yesterday, and he said they are basically going to keep a skeleton crew of relatively few people at the facility even after they close." Boyd could not be reached this morning.
The decision to mothball the plant came the same day Holcim, a global company based in Switzerland, reported a 12-percent decline in cement deliveries in the U.S., a trend the company linked to declining construction projects throughout the country.
"The sharp economic slowdown has led to a recession in both North America and in parts of Europe, with the construction sectors of the U.S., Spain and the U.K. badly affected," read a Holcim press release. "The crisis in the construction sector has made plant closures and cost-cutting programs unavoidable.
"It is uncertain for how long the weakness in demand will last," the release said.
Although employees will remain at the plant for about three months, the company is attempting to work with East Mississippi Community College to provide classes and job training programs for those affected by the layoffs, said Higgins.
EMCC also provided job training for employees laid off from Sara Lee in West Point in 2007 and from Outdoor Technology in Macon in October 2008.
"It is a sad situation," said Higgins. "Holcim is a very big community supporter, and is one of the county''s base industries.
"I told everyone several months back to keep an eye on our base industries. They are the plants that make things like cement or steel that goes into many other products," Higgins added. "When one of those facilities shuts down, it can have an effect on the area and entire industries."