MASON CITY — In early 2009 the Holcim Cement plant was humming and alive with 167 workers.
Now three maintenance workers keep its 102-year-old heart barely beating.
Environmental monitoring and permitting continue, since the plant isn’t officially closed.
It was “mothballed” on Aug. 12, 2009, hopefully awaiting a revived economy.
“The plant remains a valuable asset to the company, so they’re continuing to maintain it,” said Robin DeCarlo, Holcim’s vice president of corporate communications. “The mothball is different than a closure, and you can’t allow the equipment to just sit idle.”
In 2008, Holcim, based in Jona, Switzerland, employed about 3,000 people at its U.S. plants. It now employs about 2,000.
Falling company earnings and sinking demand for cement led Holcim officials to mothball the Mason City plant and lay off 164 employees.
DeCarlo said the Mason City plant and a mothballed Holcim plant in Artesia, Miss., may eventually reopen.
“We need the economy to recover. We need the demand for cement to get back up,” she said. “We monitor the demand for cement. When such a time presents itself, then we have the asset there that’s pretty much ready to go. But it’s a situation where all of that has to recover.”
Phillip Sanchez of Mason City, a Holcim utility worker laid off after 18 years, doubts the plant will reopen.
“And even if it does start back up, it won’t be with the big money (salaries) that was out there before,” he said.
A new $1 billion Holcim plant, opened this past spring in Ste. Genevieve County, Mo., can produce 4 million metric tons of high-quality cement annually.
Randy Solsaa, 54, of Mason City, a shipping loader for 32 years at Holcim, believes the local plant will eventually be razed.
He said the Mason City layoffs were “a little premature, with what we were selling.”
“They closed down a profitable plant,” Solsaa said.
Holcim is honoring previous committments to the community, such as donating $10,000 a year for five years to the Mason City Family YMCA.
“Although the plant is mothballed we continue to fulfill the obligations that we have,” DeCarlo said. “The community is important to us, as they are at each of our locations.”
Lehigh Portland Cement, adjacent to Holcim in Mason City, implemented a temporary 32-hour work week in May 2009 for its production workers “to align our production with the decreased demand for cement,” Lehigh Communications Manager Jeff Sieg said.
Lehigh returned to a normal 40-hour workweek about a month later.
At this time, Lehigh has no plans to purchase the Holcim complex, Sieg said.