Friday's announcement that Bluestar Silicones is closing its Rock Hill plant and consolidating operations in Charlotte has left Bob Barrett conflicted.
"My head understands what has to be done," said Barrett, the sales manager at the Rock Hill plant.
The Chinese-owned company's goal is to double its production over the next five years, and it does not have the space in Rock Hill, or at its Ventura, Calif., plant, to do that. The company will invest more than $19.8 million in land, building and equipment to increase its share of the silicone market.
"But, my heart aches," Barrett said. "There is a lot of sweat equity in this place," he said of the company's Rock Hill location on East White Street.
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Barrett and Dick Durkee started PCL Incorporated, a chemical company, in McConnells in 1984 with a handful of employees. Two years later, they purchased what was once the company store and classroom for the Highland Mill. The two-story, vacant mill building, constructed in the early 1900s, was in terrible shape. Bat droppings were everywhere.
Out went the droppings. In came materials and equipment to make silicones for the automotive, aviation, injection molding and sticky label businesses, among others.
PCL expanded its Rock Hill operations and was purchased several times, most recently by Bluestar Silicones when it bought Rhodia, a French company. Bluestar Silicones has operations China, Europe and Latin America in addition to the United States
On Friday, Bluestar Silicones officials from the French headquarters and from its American operations were joined by dignitaries from the state of North Carolina and the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce to announce that the company is moving into a 147,000 square-foot, former textile chemical factory on 19 acres off Steele Creek Road - about a 20-minute drive from Rock Hill.
North Carolina Gov. Beverly Purdue released a statement. N.C. Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco came to Charlotte for the announcement. They touted North Carolina's top-ranked business climate as a reason for the move and said "the creation of these high-paying jobs is terrific news for the Charlotte community and underscored the value of the region's - and the state's - highly skilled workers."
Bluestar Silicones said it will bring 125 jobs to its Charlotte plant. Among them will be the fifty-two employees of the Rock Hill plant, said David Beaty, strategic development and compliance director for the Rock Hill plant.
Twenty-two work in the plant's research lab; the rest are production workers. Rock Hill workers were told of the news last week and have reacted positively, Beaty said.
The Ventura plant has about 35 employees. It is unknown whether any of those workers will come to Charlotte. A company spokeswoman said they will be offered jobs.
The average annual wage at the new plant will be $62,000 plus benefits, according to Purdue's office. Mecklenburg County's average annual wage is $51,584. The figures, however, can be deceiving because they represent the average. Companies such as Bluestone have a wide salary range with some highly paid executives.
The move, for company officials in Rock Hill, comes with great reluctance. With most of the employees living in York or Chester counties, they had hoped to stay in South Carolina.
Economic development officials in York County and Rock Hill, elected leaders such as Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols, and state officials, worked hard to keep Bluestar Silicones in the county, Beaty said.
Sites in the East York Industrial Park were considered, Rock Hill economic developer Stephen Turner said. There was talk of building a new plant at the Riverwalk development, officials said.
"The deal-breaker was they found an excellent building priced right," Turner said.
North Carolina, Charlotte and Mecklenburg County offered about $600,000 in incentives to Bluestar Silicones. The One North Carolina fund put up a $340,000 grant. The remainder of the money is property tax breaks offered by the city and Mecklenburg County. The One North Carolina fund provides money to local governments for business attraction and job creation.
Turner said the package of South Carolina incentives was comparable. One difference, however, was that North Carolina was able to offer incentives on all of the 125 jobs since they were new jobs to the state. Had Bluestar Silicones built in South Carolina, only newly created jobs would have qualified for job incentives.
Bluestar Silicones International Chief Executive Officer Pascal Chalvon-Demersay said at the announcement, "The incentives presented to Bluestar meant the decision to move in."
Friday's announcement is contingent on an environmental review of the former Virkler Chemical building. The new owners do not want to assume responsibility for any existing environmental conditions.
Bluestar Silicones officials hope to close the sale by June. Once the sale is finalized, company officials will develop a plan to move work from the Rock Hill and Ventura plants to Charlotte. The company hopes to be fully operational in Charlotte by late 2012 or early 2013, officials said. The new location will allow Bluestar to expand to three shifts. Currently, the Rock Hill plant operates two shifts.
While it will be some time before Bluestar suspends its Rock Hill operations, Turner, the city's economic developer, said he already has had some inquires about the East White Street building. While there are residences nearby, he said the best use of the property likely will be manufacturing.
The Charlotte Observer contributed to this report.