Norwich plant to close in August, eliminating nearly 120 jobs
Norwich — Freeport-McMoRan Copper Products, also known as Phelps Dodge, has decided to close its Wawecus Street plant due to a downturn in business amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In a notice filed with the state Department of Labor, the plant’s manager, James Hodson, wrote that the plant expects to permanently lay off about 117 employees, beginning in August. About 90 employees will be laid off between Aug. 17 and Aug. 30, and the remaining employees, about 27, will be laid off during a second 14-day period following the first.
The announcement is a big blow to Norwich. The city has been hit hard by COVID-19 job losses, and has had the highest unemployment rate of any municipality in the state for the past two months. New figures for May released Friday by the state Department of Labor put the city's unemployment rate at 21.2%.
Other towns in the region also have double-digit unemployment rates, including New London, 17.4%; Montville, 16.3%; Preston, 14.7%; Griswold, 14.6%; and Ledyard, 14.1%.
The potential direct revenue loss to Norwich due to the Freeport-McMoRan closure is even sharper. The plant at 41 Wawecus St. ranks 11th on the city's grand list of taxable property at $7.24 million, even after some $8.1 million in tax-exempt manufacturing equipment is subtracted from the total assessed value of $15.4 million. The plant also is among Norwich Public Utilities' top electric ratepayers, Mayor Peter Nystrom said Friday.
Nystrom said he learned of the pending closure Wednesday morning in a fax from the company. He, two NPU officials and Norwich Community Development Corp. officials met with Hodson on Thursday afternoon.
Nystrom said the city is trying to convince Freeport-McMoRan's corporate executives to reverse their decision. He has asked for a meeting with the company, and city officials will meet Wednesday to discuss a strategy.
"We're not going to throw our hands up and say, 'This is it,'" Nystrom said. "We value them and their contributions to the city and to United Way. I spent the whole day Wednesday making phone calls."
Nystrom said he has contacted the Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region; state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague; U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District; U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and the Greater Norwich Area Chamber of Commerce for assistance.
Hodson was not in the office Friday and was “unreachable,” said an employee who answered the phone at the plant.
"Phelps-Dodge Industries Inc. has carefully reviewed our operations at our Norwich Plant in light of the dramatic downturn in business and economic uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hodson wrote in the filing with the state. “As part of this process, we have taken a close look at our rod and refining operations to evaluate whether they are economically viable. After much careful consideration, we have made the difficult decision to close the Norwich Plant.”
No exact date has been established for the closing.
Phelps Dodge produces high-quality, continuous cast rod for the building wire, telecom, power cable and magnet wire industries, according to its website. Freeport-McMoRan describes itself as a natural resource company with “an industry-leading global portfolio of mineral assets, significant oil and gas resources and a growing production profile.”
The Norwich plant closure announcement came after Freeport-McMoRan last month announced plans to close another copper products plant in Elizabeth, N.J., Linda Hayes, the company's vice president of communications, said in a statement Friday.
The closures are “in response to the continued economic uncertainty resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hayes wrote. “We have begun phasing out production and liquidating inventory.”
Hayes wrote that with the Norwich plant closure, Freeport-McMoRan would “gain efficiencies” with two other rod mill operations in El Paso, Texas, and Miami, Ariz., as would the plants' copper rod customers.
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