Historic Baton Rouge plant prepares for shutdown

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - An historic business in Baton Rouge is closing. The copolymer plant near the Mississippi River opened 71 years ago, during World War II. Since then, it has had a big impact on its workers and the economy.

The smoke stacks at the Baton Rouge Lion's Copolymer Plant are blasting full steam. But the old synthetic rubber plant, which produces primarily replacement tires, won't be turning a product much longer.

Vice President of Human Resources, Dana Coody, said the product is simply not in demand.

"There's a global over capacity for that product. Volatility, raw materials have made it hard to sustain a successful business," Coody said.

Business was booming in the 1940s, when the government built the plant to supply aircraft with tires during World War II. In fact, the plant hung on to the first bale of rubber ever produced at the world's oldest plant of its kind. The date was April 1, 1943.

"The United States did not have access to natural rubber at the time so they began to produce the rubber here."

Coody said the plant has been a treasure to those who work here. While it changed hands several times, she said, the names on the company's payroll have been consistent over the years.

"Sons have worked here, fathers have worked here, grandfathers have worked here. It's an employee base that's got such a rich legacy."

Roughly 150 people who currently work at Lion's will lose their jobs when the plant closes.

Doody said a security team will move in for several months to safely idle the plant. But after that, she said, the only thing that will remain is the technology center which will stay open to support the Lion's plant in Geismar, La.

"It's heartbreaking because employees are obviously sad to see this chapter come to a close."

Doody said Lion's is working with employees to help them find new jobs.

The plant will cease operations on January 31, 2014.

The only two remaining plants that produce synthetic rubber in United States are located in Texas.