In recent weeks a Sandersville manufacturer, which had more than tripled its work force during the height of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, has laid off more than half of the employees it added.
But George Gonzalez, vice president of Meltblown Technologies, said the company remains stable, unlike some other manufacturers of oil containment booms. A boom is a tube-like floating structure that can be linked with others to form a chain on the water surface that contains or absorbs oil.
The spill, caused by the explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig April 20, dumped millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf until BP managed to seal the well in early August. The company is still working to drill a relief well, considered a more permanent solution.
The Wall Street Journal has reported that BP began refusing to accept or pay for boom shipments it had ordered shortly after the leak was plugged, and that many boom makers were on the cusp of bankruptcy as a result.
Gonzalez said those were mostly makers of vinyl boom, which has a slightly different application than the absorbent polypropylene booms Meltblown makes to protect shorelines.
“We’re still shipping truckloads, just not at the same rate,” Gonzalez said.
Job gains and losses have a big impact in Washington County, where more than 15 percent of the work force of 8,500 was unemployed in June. Last month, the number of employees at Meltblown peaked at close to 200, Gonzalez said. At the beginning of July, Gonzalez had expressed hope that all the 135 employed at that time would retain their jobs after the oil spill, but the number has dropped to about 85.
Before the spill, the plant employed 45 people. Gonzalez said the company is “kind of in limbo-land” for the next few months, watching market conditions to determine whether more layoffs are going to be necessary.
Meltblown recently leased additional storage space in Sandersville and it expanded its production lines from three to a high of 11, Gonzalez said. The plant is now running six or seven lines for boom production, and is making other products on other lines. It has cut out several shifts and the number of production days for boom as well.
Gulf hurricanes or tropical storms this fall would likely increase demand, since boom has to be taken up before storms and replaced afterward.
But Gonzalez said the company’s business was growing even before the spill and it remains hopeful that a big contract in the works will keep demand high enough to maintain its current work force.
“Right now, it’s looking fine, but we’ve got to make sure we keep the business going,” Gonzalez said.
He said Meltblown still expects the Gulf oil spill to bring additional business in the long-term, as oil companies try to be better prepared for emergencies beforehand. “The frenzy is over,” he said. “It was great for business, but it was also pretty crazy.”
To reach writer S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.