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Mining and cement, Hernando's bedrock industries, bank on federal stimulus

BROOKSVILLE — It's been a difficult year for one of Hernando County's bedrock industries.

Last month, Mexican cement giant Cemex posted its first quarterly loss in a decade, $707 million. Yearly profits were down by 92 percent, and officials said they would look to cut $700 million in costs this year in reaction to the slumping economy.

That news followed the September shuttering of the company's Brooksville North cement plant. About 65 employees lost their jobs due to that cost-cutting measure, said Kenneth Russ, vice president of business services with the Pasco Hernando Jobs and Education Partnership Regional Board.

Career Central sent a "reaction team" to Cemex in October to counsel laid-off workers, Russ said. Team members worked with about 65 people from both the Brooksville plant and another facility.

"This is a conservative number," Russ added. "Last we heard, they were supposed to have layoffs in different increments. There was talk of another layoff."

That was more than the company had to say. Cemex officials refused multiple requests to talk about their Hernando County business.

"Unfortunately, we're not going to be able to participate in your story," said Houston-based spokeswoman Jennifer Borgen in an e-mail.

It was a far different story a year ago, when company officials were touting the benefits of a brand-new cement kiln they were preparing to open at their Brooksville South facility off Cobb Road.

At that time, Borgen said the $230 million project would add 35 jobs to the company's 205-person county work force.

"We expect to operate at capacity at our plants," she added. "Florida imports cement into the state to meet its demand. By producing more cement for the market within the state, this should offset more of the imports."

It didn't work out that way. Rather than producing at their full capacity of 4.7 million short tons of cement, county officials see the company cutting back in response to reduced construction demand.

"It certainly represents them reducing some production capacity, and using the most efficient production (methods) they can," said county business development director Mike McHugh. "Which is obviously what you do in these market conditions."

McHugh said it was "very likely" that the federal stimulus could spur demand for cement and aggregate to build highways, public buildings or other shovel-ready projects eligible for federal aid.

"This could be the one industry that does see the most direct impact of the stimulus program," McHugh added. "Intuitively we know that. But the order of magnitude will be determined when projects are identified."

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Mining and cement, Hernando's bedrock industries, bank on federal stimulus 02/21/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 21, 2009 12:15pm]
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