JOHNSON CREEK — Valero’s massive ethanol production facility — the former Ladish Malt structure visible from State Highway 26 north of Jefferson — will experience a layoff of 61 of its 68 employees in the coming days, according to a letter from Valero to the state’s Department of Workforce Development.
“We are writing to inform you that we will have a mass layoff at the Valero Services Inc. facility (near Johnson Creek),” said Martin Parrish, senior vice president of alternative energy and project development at San Antonio-based Valero.
Parrish said the planned workforce reduction is due to the continued idling of the facility, which originally was Ladish’s malting plant that served Miller Brewing Co. in Milwaukee for decades by railroad line.
“(The mass layoff) is expected to be indefinite, unless, and until, market conditions significantly improve and is expected to impact 61 of 68 employees at the facility,” Parrish said.
Calls and emails to Valero throughout the day Wednesday seeking more information were not returned.
Valero plant positions to be lost include an accountant, plant manager, maintenance technicians, production specialist, manager of grain procurement, maintenance workers, office coordinator, plant controller, engineer, process coordinator and operators, lab technicians, shipping and receiving staff, supervisors and a senior plant engineer.
All affected employees are expected to be released between Oct. 15 and Dec. 6.
“There are no bumping rights,” Parrish said. “The affected employees are not represented by a union.”
Valero is a Fortune 500 company, headquartered in San Antonio, Texas. It has 10,000 employees and is the world’s largest independent refiner with 15 refineries in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
According to the company’s website, it is America’s largest low-carbon renewable fuels producer. It is the world’s second largest producer of corn ethanol and the world’s second largest producer of renewable diesel fuel.
The bio-refinery in Aztalan sits on 344 acres east of Highway 26 and, at its height, annually processed nearly 40 million bushels of locally grown corn into 110 million gallons of un-denatured ethanol and nearly 400,000 tons of high-value co-products including bran, germ and CO2. The bio-refinery has had a capacity of 110 million gallons of ethanol per year.
In addition to its Jefferson plant, Valero has had facilities in Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Ohio.
Valero is the third in a string of large firms in Jefferson County that have pulled up stakes in the past few months.
Tyson Foods, operating as LD Foods Inc., permanently ceased all operations at its Jefferson facility, effective Sept. 16. The closure was prompted by the company’s decision to discontinue the product line produced at the Jefferson location.
The action resulted in the permanent elimination of 62 employees.
The Watertown economy sustained a blow recently when it was announced by the State of Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development that Eaton’s Watertown plant will be closing Nov. 19.
The facility employs 56 people, all of whom will be losing their jobs in the city.
Valero began operations in Aztalan in December of 2009. It was then that Valero announced it received approval from a bankruptcy court to acquire Renew Energy’s ethanol facility in the Town of Aztalan for for $72 million.
At that time, Valero was the highest bidder in a bankruptcy court auction. Valero also asked the nearly 70 workers who were employed by Renew Energy to stay at the plant.
At the time of the 2009 Valero purchase of the Jefferson-area plant, Valero had approximately 21,000 employees.
The uncertain future of the local Valero could affect area charities. Annually, Valero has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to local institutions as part of a community support program from its Valero Texas Open golf tournament.
“Over $58.4 million was generated for charities in 2020,” the Valero website stated.
In September of 2018, Jefferson County-area children’s charities received a total of $35,000 from employees of the Valero Renewables-Jefferson ethanol plant, who helped raise the funds through the Valero Energy Foundation and the company’s sponsorship of the 2018 Valero Texas Open and Benefit for Children in San Antonio.
The 2018 Valero Benefit for Children area recipients were Ready Kids for School, Community Dental, Christmas Neighbors, Tomorrow’s Hope, Life Striders, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Rock in Walworth and Jefferson counties, SMILES, Family Promise, Project 1649; and Watertown Family Center.
Valero’s staff also raised and supported falcons in the tall reaches of their facility, and opened the plant’s doors to school children and members of the media when birding experts would visit each June to band the young birds of prey.