Empire State Mines Laying Off Half Of Workforce

Empire State Mines Laying Off Half Of Workforce

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A zinc mine in St. Lawrence County is laying off more than half its workers.

The company that owns Empire State Mine in the town of Fowler says 23 permanent and 85 temporary employees will lose their jobs.

A source tells 7 News that the employees were informed of the layoffs at the start of their shifts overnight and at 7 a.m. Thursday.

The layoffs are effective immediately. In a statement, mine owner Titan Mining said it's keeping a core group of 87 employees, who will focus on developing "large, high-grade deposits."

In a news release Thursday morning, Titan executive officer Donald Taylor said that while company officials are reducing the workforce, "we expect to benefit from greater efficiencies associated with a smaller group of miners focused on production and development."

Taylor said that while ramping up Empire State Mine since reopening it last year, the company fell behind on rehabilitating and developing it.

The force reduction, Taylor said in the release, is designed to optimize the mine's cash flow and productivity "with the goal of lowering our costs and better positioning the mine for future success."

"Rightsizing is a hard decision, but it is also the right decision," Titan executive chairman Richard Warke said. "We remain confident in the potential of this prolific district and continue to invest in both exploration and development at ESM.”

The company transferred most of the mining from contractors to its own employees last year. The release says production shifted to a lower-grade section of the mine in the last quarter of 2018.

The company's statement indicates future mine work will focus on digging new tunnels and exploring for new zinc lodes.

Local leaders did not expect the news.

"I was surprised, but I understand. Business has to make decisions that aren't necessarily favorable to everybody in order to stay in business," said Fowler Town Supervisor Mike Cappellino.

“Jobs, particularly in the north country, are hard to get. Good jobs are very hard to get. And the thing with the 108 jobs that were either permanent or temporary layoffs this morning – they were good jobs,” said Ronald McDougall, Gouverneur mayor. “There's 87 jobs still there. Now that's considerably more than a few years ago.”

When the mine officially opened last June, the New York Power Authority provided $330,000 toward the mine's $1.2 million program to train 60 local workers, with an emphasis on training veterans from Fort Drum.

In addition, the power authority agreed to provide 4 megawatts of low-cost hydropower from its St. Lawrence-FDR power plant to the mine.

NYPA issued the following statement Thursday after the layoffs:

"Empire State Mines is currently in compliance with its contractual commitments under NYPA’s programs. The company is currently using only 2 of the 4 MWs of power they were awarded. NYPA has not yet disbursed any of the power proceeds dollars for workforce development, but the company is eligible for it. The $500,000 loan from NCEDF (North Country Economic Development Fund) was paid back a few years ago."

The St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency extended a $100,000 sales tax exemption to Titan Mining to help with start-up costs at the Empire State Mine last year.

That help was extended with the goal of Titan Mining retaining eight jobs and creating 172 jobs at the mine.

Industrial Development Agency CEO Patrick Kelly said he talked with mine officials Thursday morning.

Kelly said it’s too early to discuss whether any clawback provisions for the sales tax exemption would come into play because of this week’s layoffs at the mine.

“Our goal is to work with our companies and build relationships in good times and challenging times,“ Kelly said.

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