Elevance reduces workforce

Published 12:04 am Saturday, November 7, 2015

NATCHEZ — Market conditions in the fuel production industry forced Elevance Renewable Sciences to reduce its Natchez workforce Friday.

Company officials said the reduction does not represent a change in the company’s ultimate plan to convert the former Delta Biofiels facility into a biorefinery.

Calling the reduction “a painful decision,” Elevance’s Vice President for Sales and Market Development Andy Shafer said those affected included “a small number of internal Elevance employees and contractors.”

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Shafer declined to say how many employees were impacted, but Vice President of Manufacturing Scott Baxter said the contractors included maintenance employees and a crane operator.

“It was a set of skills that we don’t necessarily want to have on the site at all times,” he said.

Elevance first committed to building a biorefinery in Adams County at the former Delta location in 2011, a commitment that would bring 165 permanent jobs to the area but was contingent on the company’s first biorefinery in Gresick, Indonesia, opening first.

The Gresick facility started operations in 2013, and in the interim the Natchez facility has produced biodiesel while waiting for the refinery retrofitting to get under way. As of February, the company had 20 employees working in biodiesel production.

Shafer said the sustained low fuel prices of the last year have pushed the biodiesel operations to a standstill.

“It is hard to ascertain when that is going to turn around,” he said. “Those market conditions are extremely difficult, and there is a lot of uncertainty in the government programs that support that market.”

The plans for the Natchez biorefinery are still in place, but the company isn’t moving to start construction in earnest until market demand ramps up for its products, Shaffer said.

“We have to sync up with our customer forecast for demand and make sure we supply their demand when we get it, but we have to make sure we don’t build so far ahead of that so that we don’t build up and then don’t operate,” he said.

The Natchez facility has been used in the past to drum and blend some of Elevance’s product, Shafer said.

Baxter said the product that is being produced in Gresick is delivering what is needed currently.

“You look at customers who have tested the product, and it looks fantastic,” he said. “It takes longer to get adopted, but once it gets adopted, it is not something that gets bumped out when something new comes along.”

The company has also named a new chief executive officer in recent weeks, Tony Parnell. Founding CEO K’Lynne Johnson assumed the role of executive chair for the Elevance board.

Parnell previously served as a corporate officer of Albermarle Corporation, a specialty chemicals company headquartered in Baton Rouge, and has been tasked with further commercializing Elevance’s products.

“The vision and the direction we are headed is still same,” Shafer said. “That is all keeping with the same vision for the company and keep moving in the same direction. We wanted to take advantage of Tony Parnell’s background in sales supply chain and the executive and operational part of the business as we focus on ramping up and accelerating the business.”

Elevance creates novel specialty chemicals from renewable feedstocks. Using a proprietary technology called olefin metathesis, the company delivers specialty chemicals for use in personal care products, detergents and cleaners, engineered polymers, lubricants and additives and other specialty chemicals markets.