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Albemarle’s exit a blow to Louisiana

August 16, 2017
By Stephanie Riegel
Originally Posted on Greater Baton Rouge Business Report

It’s not clear that there’s anything Louisiana could have done to keep Albemarle from deciding to close its local offices downtown and relocate as many as 200 employees to facilities in North Carolina, a move announced to local employees Monday and confirmed by the company earlier today.

Still, Louisiana didn’t even have an opportunity to compete with the Tar Heel State. Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson says he is disappointed though not surprised.

“The company did not re-engage with LED or provide an opportunity to retain the additional positions that are moving to North Carolina,” Pierson says. “Essentially, this is another step in the move that began in 2015.”

Albemarle relocated its corporate offices from downtown Baton Rouge to Charlotte, North Carolina two years ago, after receiving a $2 million incentive package from North Carolina. Monday, the North Carolina Department of Commerce announced the company will add 170 jobs at two facilities there in return for a 12-year incentive package worth $4.3 million.

Most of the employees presumably will come from the Baton Rouge office.

Pierson says LED made a strong case for retaining Albemarle’s corporate headquarters in Baton Rouge back in 2015, but that this time around it wasn’t even in the running.

The Albemarle decision is a blow to Baton Rouge and the state, which jointly heralded the successful recruitment of Albemarle’s corporate headquarters to Baton Rouge from Virginia in 2008 with an incentive package that included $4.2 million in relocation expenses. LED, the city parish, and the Baton Rouge Area Chamber all worked on the deal.

In a statement this afternoon, BRAC President and CEO Adam Knapp tried to put the best spin possible on the announcement, noting that the regional economy has 4,500 more jobs than it did last year at this time.

“There is still a strong presence of corporate headquarters of great companies who continue to grow jobs in the Capital Region,” Knapps says, adding that BRAC is offering to assist affected employees with talent retention and transition to other companies in the area.

Other industry groups were not shy about pointing to what they say is the state’s unfriendly tax climate toward business.

“We are always disappointed to see jobs and opportunities lost,” says Camille Conaway, senior vice president at the Louisiana Association of Business & Industry. “Louisiana has been struggling through a recession for several years, and our business climate is not helping things. The business tax rollercoaster, an abysmal legal climate, and over-regulation continue to hold employers back in Louisiana, as well as long-term challenges such as an underskilled workforce and an aging infrastructure.”

In his statement, Pierson suggests there’s not much the state could have done to change the company’s mind. He notes that after Albemarle’s 2015 acquisition of a major international lithium manufacturer, Rockwood Holdings, it made sense for the company to look at relocating.

While a company spokeswoman said today there’s no time frame for the closure of the downtown offices, local real estate experts say whenever it comes will be too soon for a submarket that is already struggling with excess inventory.

“Dumping that much office space on a downtown market that was already softened by the new buildings at the Water Campus and IBM won’t be a positive thing,” says Wesley Moore, an appraiser with Cook Moore and Associates. “The only way that could be positive is if it facilitates the new administration and LED into attracting another new employer to the market because there is a large block of office space available.”