Global manufacturer Air Products, which opened a $57 million facility in northeast Manatee County in early 2014, has laid off 30 employees.
Allentown, Pa.-based Air Products spokesman Art George says the job losses stems from a slow down in the company's core industry, liquefied natural gas. “We're disappointed that we had to take this action,” George says in an interview with the Business Observer. “But we believe there will be a time when we can hire people again.”
The facility had about 180 employees at the end of May. Anthony Gagliano, business and economic development director at CareerSource Suncoast, a workforce training nonprofit, has worked with the company on recruiting and training employees for several years and was surprised with the layoffs. “They were still hiring as of a month ago,” says Gagliano. “We will help in anyway we can” with finding work for laid off employees.
Air Products, with a facility in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., makes massive, rocket ship-sized machines that process liquefied natural gas. The machines, coil-wound heat exchangers, are half the length of a football field. In 2014 the company built a five-building, 300,000-square-foot complex, on 32 acres across the street from Port Manatee, to solve a lingering issue: It wanted to build the giant machines closer to a seaport so it could ship its products to clients easier.
To help lure the company, which considered locations in Louisiana and Texas, state and Manatee County officials provided Air Products with a performance-based incentive package. The company, with $9.9 billion in revenues in 2015, is eligible for up to $1.7 million in tax breaks and other incentives from Florida and another $680,000 from Manatee County. That's in exchange for what could be up to 250 jobs in four years.
In a May interview, Manatee County plant manager Mark Evans said the biggest challenge he faces is finding enough qualified employees. But another challenge, he added, could come in having enough work for employees, given a sales cycle that could last two years. The five current projects at the facility, Evans said in May, are scheduled to be completed by May 2017, and there were no other orders in the pipeline. “We are waiting for next order,” Evans said. “We are chomping at the bit.”