Eastman Chemical shows it believes in potential of Western Massachusetts (Editorial)

Any business that undertakes a major expansion in the midst of a global pandemic must surely be confident it will garner a return on its investment. It is also an indicator that the business believes in its community, convinced the outlook wherever they are located is bright and positive. The news last week that Eastman Chemical is investing $25 million to upgrade and expand production at its plant in Springfield should reverberate all across Western Massachusetts. It’s a positive sign for the entire region.

Eastman is an example of one of those companies that flies under our collective radar year in and year out. It quietly goes about its work to produce Saflex products used most notably in windshields. And, just as quietly, Eastman has been a steadfast community partner, supporting the neighborhood and the city at large.

The plant, located in Indian Orchard, has been going strong for decades and today has a workforce numbering 325. In 1938, Monsanto Chemical Corp. bought what was then known as the Fiberloid Corp. Monsanto spun off its chemicals business worldwide in 1997 when the plant became part of Solutia, which was then purchased in 2012 by Eastman Chemical.

Headquartered in Tennessee, Eastman, which employs some 14,500 people around the world, reported revenues of $8.5 billion in 2020. It has some 50 manufacturing facilities, meaning it surely had options to consider in deciding whether to expand in Springfield, its only corporate site in New England.

While the company took a major hit amid the pandemic when its end market of automobile manufacturing shut down for a time, Eastman foresees growth ahead. Said Travis Smith, Eastman vice president and general manager in Springfield, “The trends in both automotive and architectural end-use markets are driving increasing needs for high-performance interlayer products, and we are excited about the opportunities this investment creates to further enable our innovation-driven growth strategy.”

The company’s charitable efforts on behalf of the community provided a light amid the darkness over the past year. Eastman donated $40,000 to the Indian Orchard Citizens Council to help establish a relief fund for small businesses hurt by the pandemic. It also helped supply personal protective equipment to the city and donated 1,000 lap desks for Springfield’s school children learning at home. These contributions continue a history of community support dating back to the days of Monsanto. Eastman Chemical’s investment in Springfield is an investment in Western Massachusetts. Brighter days are ahead for us all.