Simsboro glass plant announcement stuns many

By T. Scott Boatright

While the Wednesday afternoon announcement that Ardagh Glass Packaging – North America is shutting down its Simsboro glass plant shocked employees and residents in Lincoln Parish, it was the sudden timing that caught nearly everyone off guard.

The move is supposed to take place in mid-July according to a press release from the company.

Simsboro Mayor Sybil Smalling-Foster said she was shocked by the news.

“I was blindsided,” Smalling Foster said. “I just started getting calls this afternoon out of nowhere. I had no prior warning or notice about it in any way.

“(Today) I’ll be calling some of our state congressmen to see if there’s anything they can do about this or shed any light as to why it’s happening, because this is a tremendous hit to Simsboro. A big hit. When things have come up in the past, I had some advanced warning. But this time I was just blindsided.”

A release about the impending closure was sent to the Lincoln Parish Journal Wednesday by Ardagh Vice President of Marketing, Communications and New Product Development Gina L. Behrman and reads as follows:

“Ardagh Glass Packaging – North America (AGP – North America) continues to focus on enhancing our overall performance as a leading supplier of glass packaging to the food and beverage industries.

“Our multi-year performance optimization program, involving targeted investments in enhanced capacity and ongoing cost optimization, underpins our ability to continue to provide existing and prospective customers with high quality, American-made sustainable glass packaging.

“Pursuant to this program and in response to recent weakness in market demand, we have today announced certain adjustments to our manufacturing footprint involving the closure of our Ruston (Simsboro), Louisiana, and Wilson, North Carolina glass production facilities, effective mid-July 2023. Existing customers of these facilities will continue to be supplied from alternative locations in our network.”

Around 250 workers are employed at the Simsboro plant, which is down by almost half from five years ago. In 2018, around 450 people were working at the plant, which at that time had two working furnaces. 

That was more than the 350 workers that the facility needed to employ to stay in compliance with tax incentive deals with the state. But employee cuts made in 2018 and even since to pare the number of workers down came with some advanced notice.

Not this time.

“In the past I got a letter or email from the company in advance telling about the cuts that were coming,” Smalling-Foster said. “But this time there was no kind of even potential warning until I started getting calls (Wednesday afternoon) that employees were being told the plant was shut down.

“That’s why I need to find out more about what all has happened. I truly was blindsided this time.”

As news of the impending closure spread Wednesday afternoon, it was thought by some that changes made to the company’s tax-incentive deal with the state of Louisiana could have possibly played a role in the decision.

The state’s recently-approved budget, passed in the final 30 minutes of the session avoiding the need to call for a special session to finalize a clear budget, has caused some debate over whether legislators knew exactly what was and wasn’t part of the new budget.

Some comments on social media Wednesday about the closures in both Simsboro and North Carolina hinted at a decline in sales. The Ardagh press release also mentioned “recent weakness in market demand,” hinting that was a deciding factor in the corporation’s decision.

Glass demand has dwindled in recent months as Bud Light suffered historically bad sales numbers triggered by the nation’s No. 1 beer brand launching a controversial marketing tie-in with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney. That marketing campaign has brought a wave of pushback and boycotts from many consumers across the nation, impacting sales.

Could that be a factor for Ardagh who has a longtime partnership with Anheuser-Busch?

According to the latest data released by Bump Williams Consulting and NielsenIQ for the week ending June 10, Bud Light sales dropped by 26.8%.

That decline was larger than the 24.4% drop seen during the previous week — and even topped the all-time worst fall of 25.7% during the week ending May 20.

One Simsboro employee, who wished to remain anonymous, said they feel it was a “perfect storm” of multiple circumstances that led to the decision to close the Simsboro and North Carolina plants.

“The glass industry as a whole has declined in the last several years,” the employee wrote in a message sent to the LPJ.  “That (Simsboro) plant is falling apart. The roof leaks and the furnace is just short of falling in. It will cost millions to repair, and the money return just isn’t there to justify it. It’s just a corporate decision.”

The Simsboro plant has been in operation since opening in the early 1960s when it opened as Laurens Glass. It was later acquired by Saint-Gobain Containers, which merged with Ardagh in 2013. In recent years the Simsboro plant produced bottles for multiple beverage and food products, including serving as the primary provider for the Tabasco pepper sauce company.