How Will SABIC's Departure From Pittsfield Impact The Region?
An announcement Wednesday by SABIC solidifies the Saudi-based company’s exit from Pittsfield. So what does it mean for the area’s economy?In about one month, Linda Tyer takes over as mayor of Pittsfield — and within her first two years in office she will have to deal with the loss of about 300 jobs in Berkshire County’s largest city.
“This is more bad news for the people and families of Pittsfield,” Tyer said. “I understand that SABIC has a business to run and this part of their business plans. But of course I’m concerned about this affects families and the city of Pittsfield.”
SABIC Innovative Plastics plans to close its Pittsfield facility in the middle of 2016 as part of the creation of a regional headquarters in Houston. That news came in October and earlier this week, the company said its Polymer Processing Development Center will shut its doors in 2017. Those operations will move to a Northeast innovation and technology hub in Selkirk, NY. The PPDC’s future had been up in the air since October. Tyer says she called SABIC’s government relations official to see if there was anything Pittsfield could do to compete with the Albany County location.
“I got the impression that there wasn’t much that we could do locally to try to compete for that,” Tyer said.”However I’ve had a brief conversation with [State] Senator [Ben] Downing and State Representative [Tricia] Farley-Bouvier and I would like to try to keep up the pressure.”
SABIC is hopeful some of the PPDC workers can commute the roughly 40 miles from Pittsfield to Selkirk, but Tyer doesn’t think that’s practical.
“That’s not much of a silver lining, honestly,” said Tyer.
SABIC has been touted as one of the key anchors of the Berkshire Innovation Center slated for former General Electric land in Pittsfield. Infused with nearly $10 million from the state, ground hasn’t yet been broken for the 20,000-square foot facility at the William Stanley Business Park, but it’s still expected to happen this year. SABIC’s director of corporate communications in the Americas Jodi Kennedy has said she is not aware of any decision regarding SABIC’s participation in the BIC. Neither is Berkshire Chamber of Commerce President Jonathan Butler. Butler says the chamber has been operating with the belief that SABIC was leaving Pittsfield since October.
“We’ve been collecting a variety of different leads with other employers in the region that are very interested in potentially acquiring some talent from SABIC that is displaced as a result of this move,” said Butler.
Cory Thurston heads the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority which oversees the William Stanley Business Park. While he doesn’t know for sure, he believes SABIC will continue its involvement with the innovation center.
“Selkirk is very close by,” Thurston said. “The innovation center has a number of New York businesses and educational institutions that are supporting the innovation center already. So I’m very optimistic that we will maintain that relationship with SABIC.”
Thurston says SABIC’s departure is a blow to the economy and reinforces the need for the BIC to grow existing companies.
Butler says SABIC employees could fill a broad range of positions in human resources, advanced manufacturing and engineering. He says economic leaders will also try to market the facilities on Plastics and Merrill Avenues, which SABIC rents from General Electric.
“Those are highly desirable facilities within multiple industries,” Butler said. “That’s going to really give us a product from a marketing perspective that hopefully will be able to attract some new potential that will create some jobs.”
According to state data, Pittsfield’s unemployment rate dropped from about nine percent in 2010 to seven percent in 2014. During that time, the city’s labor workforce declined by more than 700. In 2015, the unemployment rate has shifted between 6.5 and 5 percent. Healthcare and social assistance, manufacturing and professional and technical services are the top three industries by salary.