LeTourneau lays off 50, cites economy

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 10, 2009

More job losses hit the local economy Friday, as LeTourneau Technologies Inc. confirmed 50 layoffs at its riverside oil rig construction yard.

“Due to the current economic conditions, LeTourneau Technologies did have a reduction in force of approximately 50 people today,” said Clay Masters, human resources manager for the company.

Officials with the company did not provide additional information on which positions or shifts were most affected, but indicated the plant will remain in operation for the foreseeable future. Calls to Houston-based parent firm, Rowan Companies Inc., were not returned.

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Friday’s job losses are the latest in a turbulent nine months at the south Warren County plant. The worst flooding on the Mississippi River at Vicksburg in 35 years flooded vast sections of territory in northwest and southwest Warren County in April and May — shuttering operations at LeTourneau for more than a month. Nearly all of its workforce was laid off while the water receded and work began to start repairs to badly damaged LeTourneau Road.

While work picked up in later months — work continued on two 240C class exploratory oil rigs during the year — employment began dwindling toward the end of the year. Workers gearing up for an afternoon shift at the plant Friday said nearly all contract employees, which made up about one-third of its peak workforce of 1,100 during the year, were laid off in December and some workers who had been working in excess of 80 hours had been cut back to about 45.

“They’re cutting hours and they’re cutting people,” one worker said, switching parking spaces in the plant’s half-full parking lot Friday afternoon.

Industry analysts cited declining oil prices, though welcomed by consumers after mid-summer gas prices hit nearly $4 locally, in downgrading Rowan’s profits forecasts. A report published Wednesday by SmartMoney.com counted Rowan among six companies trading less than their book values, or the difference between its assets and liabilities. It estimated a 5 percent dip in profits for the company this year and a 7 percent increase next year. Shares traded at $15.80 on the New York Stock Exchange at Friday’s close, down 81 cents from Thursday.

In a Dec. 15 release, Rowan announced its local subsidiary inked a five-year agreement to supply front-end loaders to Brazil-based diversified metals and mining company Vale.

The local economy shed a few less jobs in December than in November, as the unemployment rate stood at 6.4 percent, down from 6.7 in October. However, a mix of layoffs and job losses marked the second half of the year at major employers in Vicksburg and Warren County. Those included 240 jobs still on hold in a temporary closing of International Paper, 53 layoffs at Ameristar Casino, 55 lost jobs at Anderson-Tully’s Mill K that closed Dec. 30 and 73 jobs eliminated at Yorozu Automotive Mississippi.

Among Vicksburg’s largest employers, LeTourneau began as a munitions plant in 1944. Over time, it evolved into a global leader for building movable oil rigs. Rowan acquired the yard from Marathon Inc. in 1994 after a two-year shutdown, and it reopened in September 1995.

On LeTourneau Road, work has begun to shore up the soil underneath a 0.8-mile section of the eastbound lane, which washed out during the spring floods. Further construction to resurface the damaged section will take place after the stabilization is complete. Both projects are being financed with federal dollars, with some local matching money.


Contact Pamela Hitchens at phitchins@vicksburgpost.com or Danny Barrett Jr. at dbarrett@vicksburgpost.com