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SABIC's Departure Prompts Pittsfield Response Plan for Affected Workers
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
06:54PM / Friday, October 09, 2015
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It is still unclear what will happen to the Plastic Avenue property.
Mayor Daniel Bianchi and BCREB Executive Director Heather Boulger called a press conference Friday afternoon to announce the short-term and long-term plans to ease impacts on SABIC employees.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — City, county, and company officials are rolling out resources to keep the 300 employees affected by SABIC's decision to move its headquarters to Houston. 
 
On Friday, Mayor Daniel Bianchi and Berkshire County Regional Employment Board Executive Director Heather Boulger announced plans to work with the impacted employees to find new jobs.
 
Those plans include connecting the workers with currently existing job openings — such as some 200 vacant positions at General Dynamics — and helping small companies grow to a point to hire more.
 
"It is going to have impacts on the community and it is going to have impacts on those folks who work at the plant who may not be transition and losing their jobs," Bianchi said.
 
"I want to assure people who are there and assure the people in the city of Pittsfield and Berkshire County that we are working to help those folks transition and identify opportunities."
 
Saudi Arabia Basic Industries Corp.'s Innovative Plastics announced that it would be moving the headquarters to Houston on Thursday but said it wasn't clear how many of those employees will be transferred from Pittsfield to other locations. The move creates a new hub for the global company's United States operations but leaves a hole in Berkshire County's job market.
 
"For us to be prepared to grow our presence, we need a strong regional hub," said Jodi Kennedy, a spokeswoman for SABIC. 
 
Kennedy said the company is working on a transition plan that intends to move many of the Pittsfield employees to Houston or other locations. That will include relocation and other benefits to keep those workers with the company. However, that plan is not yet made and it is expected that some employees will opt not to transfer and others' jobs will be eliminated.
 
"A lot of careful thought went into this decision. How we will transition is what we will work on now," Kennedy said. "We have very talented people in Pittsfield and we hope they will join us in Houston."
 
The company will vacate its Plastic Avenue office and is evaluating the Polymer Processing Development Center on Merrill Road. An estimated 300 employees will be affected by the transition.
 
On the city side, the state' Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development is deploying its rapid response team. That team was most recently in the Berkshires to help employees of the former North Adams Regional Hospital find work. 
 
"We will have the rapid response team available to go on the property of SABIC and start working with those employees. It is really imperative that we start today to really understand who will be affected, who will be transitioned, who will remain and what those skills sets are," Bianchi said.
 
The mayor said the first step, which will work concurrently with the company's transition plan development, would be to identify the workers who will be left behind and determine their skill sets. The Berkshire Chamber of Commerce will help connect those workers to similar jobs existing in the county.
 
"The current job vacancy rate in Berkshire County is 1,797 jobs available today. There are about 200 of them that are the high technical positions. It gives us an opportunity to identify what those openings may be and share those with those who may be leaving to stay in the county," Boulger said.
 
The mayor said, "General Dynamics, we will certainly be working with them, they have somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 jobs that include engineer jobs, systems analysis jobs, and other technical jobs that they plan on having available right now."
 
Over the next year or so, as SABIC pulls out of Pittsfield, the mayor's office will be seeking out small and medium-sized companies in the proper fields to find out how each can grow and deploy resources to fast track plans to create additional opportunities for those displaced workers.
 
"We are hope to expedite that transition and those decisions," Bianchi said, of company's growth plans.
 
The mayor boasted of his small business loan program, which can help companies expand, and the Small Business Banking Partnership started by former Treasurer Steven Grossman, which expands the availability of loans. A task force of county business officials will try to connect companies to those programs.
 
Boulger said she'll be reaching out to federal and state officials to bring additional resources to those companies looking to expand. The mayor said there is also the possibility of tax incentive programs to meet the same ends.
 
The mayor said the first step is to figure out what the skill sets of displaced employees are and then match them up with jobs.
"We really will be over the next few weeks exploring the assets we have to maybe assist those companies in growing," Bianchi said.
 
But first, both SABIC and county officials need to determine which jobs will be displaced. Kennedy said the company will be looking at all of them over the next few months. The transition will truly help the company, she said, but at the same time the organization is trying to minimize the impacts on the employees — particularly through an open and honest communication about the situation. 
 
"We want to be open with our people about what we know and what we don't know," Kennedy said. "We're trying to communicate very early."
 
The transition is expected over the next year, giving officials more time than in other cases — a timeline for which Boulger is grateful.
 
"The company has been proactive in informing the employees and the community so we can plan accordingly. In many instances we don't have that luxury," Boulger said.
 
While the loss of 300 jobs is a blow to the city, Bianchi says a silver lining is that the timeline allows for minimized impacts on employees and a renewed focus on growing local companies.
 
"This will give us the opportunity to do what we do best and that is to collaborate with other agencies and other companies in the area to minimize the impact on employees," he said.
 
It is also unclear what is going to happen to the property. SABIC leases the space from General Electric and it will be up to GE to determine what to do with it. 
 
"This property is relatively new. It is state of the art. You couldn't find a better executive suite of offices. You couldn't find a better facility. It it a top-notch facility that's been improved," Bianchi said, confident that the building won't meet the same fate as many other former GE buildings in the city.
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