Imperial laying off 130 workers

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 23, 2010



GRAMERCY – Officials with Imperial Sugar said this week they plan to lay off about 130 workers at their Colonial Sugar Refinery as part of an impending ownership exchange at the Gramercy facility.

H. P. Mechler, vice president and chief financial officer for Imperial Sugar, said at the end of the year the company will transfer equipment and property at the site to Louisiana Sugar Refining LLC, which will run an expanded refinery at the existing site. Mechler said the transfer would minimize the stake Imperial holds at the Gramercy plant.

“Instead of continuing to operate the entire refinery outright, we will now be a one-third partner in the joint venture,” Mechler said. “We will be part of an operation that now includes folks from Cargill and the Louisiana Sugar Growers and Refiners.”

In November, officials with Imperial, Cargill Inc. and Louisiana Sugar Growers and Refiners closed on a deal to construct and operate a $145 million sugar refinery in St. James Parish. The venture will completely revamp operations at the Colonial Sugar Refinery, while also using existing parts already in place.

Mechler said Imperial would only be handling the packaging operations at the new refinery. He said anyone not involved in that aspect of operations would be laid off later this year.

“Direct employment will drop from 200 to about 70,” Mechler said. “The employees have been informed and all know that it is coming.”

Mechler said Louisiana Sugar Refining would begin operation at the plant on Jan. 1, 2011. At that time, the company will make separate decisions as to who to rehire from the Imperial operation.

The new refinery, which has been hyped as one of the largest in the nation, is projected to handle about 75 percent of all the raw sugar in Louisiana, as well as 10 percent of the nation’s needs. All three groups stand to gain a share in the profits. It marks the first time the state’s cane growers will enjoy a large stake of refining operations in Louisiana.

The construction project is expected to create about 500 contractor employees. When the new elements are in place, the refinery will have about 145 permanent jobs. Construction and start-up is expected to take between 18 and 24 months.