BELPRE - Community leaders along with local, state and national representatives joined leaders of Kraton Polymers on Monday to celebrate the Belpre facility's 50 years in business.
"Wow, 50 years in business," said plant general manager Mark Gaddy. "That's a milestone that not a lot of businesses and plants of this nature can celebrate."
The local facility opened in 1961 after needs for higher capacity moved the Shell plant for polyisoprene and polybutadiene rubber, the world's first thermoplastic rubber, to Belpre. These "styrenic block copolymers" later took the name of Kraton thermoplastic rubber. The plant initially focused on the production of polyisoprene rubber and latex.
Initial employment at the facility was 129 employees with one production unit. Since it opened, the Belpre Plant has been expanded, upgraded and modernized to meet increasing demands and now employs more than 600 employees and contractors at five production units.
"A strong 50-year partnership with Belpre and the entire Mid-Ohio Valley has helped the Belpre plant become the top producer of polystyrene block," Gaddy said.
Belpre Mayor Mike Lorentz began his portion of the program with a joke about getting some payback to some of his former co-workers at the facility.
"I was reminded that most of the people here have more information on me than I do on them," said Lorentz, who retired from Kraton in 2006 after 26 years of service. "But, seriously, Kraton is important to the community by employing EMTs and firefighters and their employees having served on several boards and other community organizations and two of Belpre's mayors were employees here.
"All of these people have been supported and energized by the company and other people at the facility," Lorentz added.
Kraton president and CEO Kevin Fogarty called Kraton a "family operation in many different ways."
He added the company has made many changes throughout the years to better the health, safety and environmental policy for the community and the world.
"The world has changed quite a bit in the past 50 years and it is truly our flagship site globally," Fogarty said.
The company, based out of Houston, Texas, has five plants in four continents.
"Along with the past 50 years, we also celebrate the future of Belpre," Fogarty added.
Both Lorentz and Joyce Mather, executive director of the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley, said the facility goes far beyond its walls in the community.
"They are indeed an industrial giant in the Mid-Ohio Valley and they are also a giant in terms of being at great community partner in financial contributions and volunteer hours," Mather said. "It's not in their job description; they do it for the love of the community."
She added Kraton is the first in per-capita giving for the United Way.
"Together we are indeed changing what we see in our world," Mather said.