SMITH COUNTY – Smith County officials are not resting on their laurels following the closure of Nyrstar Tennessee Mines LLC, one of the area’s top employers, amid declining metal prices.
The company notified the state this week that it shuttered its zinc mine operations in and around Gordonsville, effective Monday. The total number of affected workers is 346, and 90 others could be phased out as the mine is placed on care and maintenance.
But Smith County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bill Woodard is hopeful most of those laid off can be absorbed into various other open positions locally and beyond. The chamber, in conjunction with Smith County government, is planning a job fair from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday, Dec. 18, at the Smith County Ag Center to help match those parties.
“It’s a tough blow, and it’s a bad thing, but we’re trying to take the high road,” Woodard told the UCBJ. “There’s a lot of employers out there looking for quality employees, and that’s exactly who these people are. It won’t be an end-of-the-world scenario.”
Officials are still ironing out details for the hiring event; Woodard said he has talked with Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which plans to hire 400 for its new prison in nearby Trousdale County, as well as others hiring in town, including Bonnell Aluminum, Tennessee Contract Carriers and more.
Nyrstar also held a job fair event Tuesday for employees interested in transferring to other locations, Woodard said.
While all their Middle Tennessee mines are being placed on care and maintenance, including three mines and a processing plant located within a 20-square-mile area in Smith County, the company’s mines in East Tennessee – Knox, Jefferson and Grainger counties, specifically – remain in operation.
“The decision to put our Middle Tennessee Mining operations on care and maintenance was not taken lightly,” Bill Scotting, CEO of Nyrstar, said in a statement. “However, given the continued depression of the metal price environment, it is the right decision for the company. We continue to take decisive action to reduce spending in our mines, and further mine operation suspensions may be necessary if the depressed metals price environment continues. We expect to complete the process to divest the majority or all of our mines over the course of 2016.”
The company is paying its affected employees through February, Woodard said. He’s hopeful operations will reboot once conditions improve.
“It’s valuable property, so it’s pretty remote that they’d completely shut it down, flood it and walk away,” he said. “That could happen if zinc prices stay way down. But if thy were to rebound, they would reopen.”