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Clearon plant on track for January

Clearon Corp.'s bleach plant in South Charleston is on track to resume production in January, but likely with fewer workers.

Plant Manager Scott Johnson in August announced a temporary production shutdown because of high inventories and poor market conditions. The situation had reached a point where the layoffs were necessary to maintain the plant's viability, he said then.

The plant makes dry granular bleach, then presses it into tablets used in swimming pools to cleanse the water. The plant's bleach also is used in industrial, laundry and sanitizer products.

Layoffs occurred in September as planned.

"We've got about 50 people who have been put on temporary layoff status," Johnson said. "Our plan is still what we announced. We're going to start starting the units - we can't just flip a switch and bring everything on all at once. We will begin the startup process the first week of December. Then we will work on getting the process back up and stabilized.

"We're bringing back the remaining people we're going to bring back during the first or second week of January," he said. "We will have all of the plant back up and running, although at a reduced rate, by the end of January.

"We've reorganized how we'll be running next year," Johnson said. "In the past we've budgeted for around 145 people. When we get back up it will be around 120 people. We've seen a number of issues we've got to become more efficient in. There are two driving issues: To become as cost-efficient as we can be and, the broad and more important aspect is, what can we do and do it completely safe?"

The factory, which is across from the stamping plant, currently has about 75 employees. They are performing all of the tasks required to meet customer requirements including marketing, sales, and some tableting and packaging, Johnson said. "And then we've got the group in safety and environmental, payroll and accounting."

Asked how the market looks for the plant's products in 2013, Johnson replied, "Not great. We're taking some measures to see if we can bolster some new product type introductions. We're trying to do some things to help people understand more about our products vs. other products that are out there. In other words, educating the marketplace.

"We're certainly still stressing very strongly with all parties that we need support on these Chinese tariffs."

Clearon in 2004 charged that the Chinese were unfairly dumping bleach on the U.S. market. In 2005 the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled in Clearon's favor and imposed tariffs on Chinese bleach.

"Once anti-dumping tariffs are set, they're reviewed annually by the (federal) Department of Commerce," Johnson explained. "The tariff rates have steadily declined from 2005 to today. We hope the rates will again increase to where they will give us a level playing field."

Johnson said he buttonholed as many dignitaries as he could on Monday during Gestamp's ribbon-cutting ceremony to solicit their support for the tariffs on Chinese bleach. The tariffs "are very important to us," he said.

"Our goals remain the same - we're trying to strengthen our marketplace, our position vs. the imports that are coming in," he said. "But I just don't think you can turn all of these things around fast enough that suddenly you can make 2013 look like roses. Our management group projects it will take a year and a half or two years to really make this turnaround."

The South Charleston plant was built by FMC Corp. in the late 1960s. FMC sold it to Olin Corp. in 1985. Clearon bought the plant in 1995. In 1998 Clearon moved a tableting and packaging facility from Livonia, Mich., to South Charleston.

Clearon is a subsidiary of Israel Chemicals Ltd., now known as ICL. There are three segments within ICL - industrial products, performance products and fertilizers. Clearon is a part of the industrial products segment.

Contact writer George Hohmann at business@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.


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