Romney, the Gypsum Industry and Plant Closings

Mitt Romney’s path to the Republican nomination has taken some unusual turns … oh, sure, there was the big economic speech in Detroit’s Ford Field which was shoeboxed into one corner (this was the speech in which he related to the audience about his wife’s two Cadillacs – not to be confused with his speech were he discussed his love for Michigan trees that grew to the right height). It was in Michigan and the auto industry that heard about managed bankruptcy – “No way would we allow the auto industry to totally implode and disappear. It would go through bankruptcy.”

While the auto industry gets the headlines, wanna-be-CEO-in-Chief Romney may have an interest in the gypsum industry.

On January 24, Mr. Romney choose the National Gypsum wallboard plant in Port Tampa Florida as the backdrop for a campaign event, “In 2008, this plant closed because of the economic downturn. In a normal recovery under strong leadership, it could now be full of workers.”
The Port Tampa plant, which opened 50 years ago, was closed in June 2008, five months before Barack Obama was elected president.

On Thursday, April 20th, Mitt Romney spoke inside a different National Gypsum plant located in Lorain, Ohio that also opened in the 1950‘s, arguing that the closed plant illustrated the failure of President Obama to turn around a stagnant economy. “Had the president’s economic plans worked, it’d be open now. But it’s still empty,” Romney said.

Mr. Romney said little or nothing he hasn’t said before, reflecting his campaign’s view that the site was as important as his spoken message. Mr. Romney, a former investment company executive, said he intends to bring his private-sector experience to the presidency … but Jessica Kershaw, a spokeswoman for Obama’s campaign, said : “It’s ironic that Mitt Romney is in Ohio to talk about manufacturing, because Romney has an abysmal job creation record. As governor, he ranked 47th out of 50 in job creation, while wages and income in the state fell. In the private sector, Romney lines his pockets by firing workers, shipping jobs overseas and forcing companies into bankruptcy, so just exactly when will Mitt Romney address his failed economic record?”

Hmmm … same message … but we really do not know what Mr. Romney would have done specifically for the gypsum industry.

And could this be sour grapes … an angry investor looking for someone to blame ?
In 2002, Bain Capital has it’s hands in a gypsum manufacturing plant they bought from Georgia-Pacific; Bain actively has sought ownership in Lafarge Gypsum which has a plant in Silver Grove, KY where Bernard L. M. Kasriel is on the board (and conveniently also an executive with National Gypsum) and Thomas C. Nelson, CEO of National Gypsum is on the Romney For President Committee.
Do you think that Investor Romney has an interest in gypsum ?

Gypsum business is like any other … ups and downs. It was probably up in 2005 when National Gypsum announced $125 million expenditure to construct a wallboard plant in Mount Holly NC.
Why Mount Holly, North Carolina ?
Simple, answer … nearby Duke Power and it’s coal-fired plants otherwise as National Gypsum’s chief executive, Thomas Nelson said “we would not have been able to cost effectively build a plant here.” The Mount Holly plant exclusively uses power-plant gypsum which means National doesn’t have to mine and haul the mineral. The Mount Holly plant opened in September 2007.

Consumption of gypsum was 41.6 million tons in 2006 but was down 40 percent by 2008 when companies like National Gypsum started closing plants in Wilmington, N.C., Delair, N.J., outside Philadelphia, plus the aforementioned facilities in Florida and Ohio.

When the downturn happened … where do you think the “market forces” would suggest that production be reduced … in a plant that is a half-century old or one that is new ? The Lorain plant employees belonged to Local D416 of the International Brotherhood of Broilermakers … and do you think the North Carolina plant was unionized ? (BTW – National Gypsum knows how to play hardball … for example, the company initiated a lockout of its facility in Shoals, Indiana on Sept. 6, 2011, after associates had worked without a contract since Feb. 1, 2011 and negotiations between the company and the United Steelworkers and was finally reopened on March 20, 2012 but still without a union contract.)

Oh, and BTW, Gypsum wallboard imports in the fourth quarter of 2011 rose 15% compared to the third quarter of 2011 and 37% year-on-year. Mexico accounted for 59% of these imports, followed by Canada with 41%.
Yep, foreign competition and globalization is a fact … but will Mr. Romney address the current system that has tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas as opposed to incentizing those companies that create good jobs with decent wages here in America ?

Wanna-be CEO-in-Chief Romney has friends that can open closed factories for photo-ops, but does he have a plan that will result in American Jobs ?

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