SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) — COVID-19 has decimated many industries in the United States.
Possibly among the latest victims is the nearly century-old Libbey glass-manufacturing plant in Shreveport.
On Wednesday, the Ohio-based company announced tentative plans to close that operation by the end of the year, leaving 450 employees out of work.
The word “tentative” is critical here.
Libbey also announced that it would be negotiating with the unions before making any final decision about the future of the plant, which has stood at its current location on Jewella Avenue for the past 98 years.
Ever since the Libbey Glass manufacturing plant opened here in 1922, it’s been a way of life.
“I’ve been at Libbey almost 36 years. So I came basically out of high school,” Michael Kimble said.
He now serves as the president of the United Steel Workers Union local and says there still could be a chance they may be able to work out something with Libbey to keep the plant doors open.
“I’d say 50-50.that it could remain open There’s always an opportunity as long as you’ve got the doors open like they are right now,.
“As long as we’re negotiating, trying to negotiate something, there’s always an opportunity.”
Kimble worries about what happens to the 450 employees and their families if they're unable to reach a deal with Libbey to stay open past the end of the year.
“It’ll have a major impact because now you may not be having insurance and you’re used to bringing home a certain amount of money each week,” he explained. “You ain’t gonna be able to bring that home now. So it’ll be a little more tighter to put food on the table.”
The unemployment rate in Shreveport-Bossier City has jumped from 4.1% in April to 12.5% in May, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That means finding a job could be a big challenge for many laid-off workers.
Closure of Libbey’s Shreveport operations would be just the latest in a long line of businesses in the city to shutter their doors in recent decades.
It’s something Shreveport historian and longtime Caddo Registrar of Voters Ernie Roberson has watched for himself decade after decade.
"If you go down Mansfield Road, if you go down St. Vincent's, from about Hollywood down to West 70th, that looks like a war zone now because of all the loss of businesses."
When word came of the potential closure of the Libbey Glass manufacturing plant in Shreveport, Roberson said it conjured fond memories of what Shreveport’s economy used to look like.
"According to the Shreveport Magazine, and it's true, we were the Gas Capital of the World' in 1954."
But Roberson said all those white-collar jobs began to leave Shreveport for Houston in the 1960s.
He recalls how local leaders then brought in blue-collar jobs:
“In comes Western Electric ... then General Electric, then General Motors.”
In turn, the GM plant also brought in a dozen or so spinoff companies.
But now, all those blue-collar jobs are gone, effectively turning once-prosperous areas of Shreveport into mini ghost towns.
Roberson showed us one example, starting with a city directory from 1968 for Greenwood Road.
“And these were all businesses on Greenwood Road, maybe a few residential places that were there. And now the only thing there basically is Willis-Knighton and doctor’s offices.”
As for the fate of the Libbey Glass plant, Kimble is far from giving up, saying negotiations still are underway.
"I think we'll hear something sooner than later."
Kimble: “I have to be. It’s no other way to be. Once you start accepting defeat, then you become defeated.”
With Shreveport’s population continuing to fall and along COVID-19 exacerbating economic woes, Roberson said he just doesn’t see any economic homerun — like a huge factory coming to town — at least in the foreseeable future.
He also is quick to point out that he hopes he’s wrong on that prediction.