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Gay & Robinson era ends


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POSTED: Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Gay & Robinson sugar mill on Kauai is shutting down in late October, about a year earlier than anticipated, after 120 years in business.

“;It is with a great deal of regret that Gay & Robinson Inc. announced today that subject to favorable weather, the last sugar cane grown by the company will be processed by the mill in late October,”; said President E. Alan Kennett in a released statement.

A total of 167 full-time employees work at Gay & Robinson, and 137 are to be laid off between Nov. 25 and Dec. 14, according to a notice filed with the state Department of Labor.

The list includes everyone from a brooming rake operator who's worked at the mill since 1965 to an assistant cleaning plant operator just hired in March. Many had been with the company more than 20 years.

Among those being laid off are 15 salaried employees, including Vice President Bruce Robinson.

Last September, the company had announced it was exiting the sugar business, but that its last crop would be harvested by August 2010.

“;I can't express how saddened I am for the employees and their families and for all of Kauai to see our last remaining sugar plantation close its doors for good,”; said Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. “;Although we all knew it was coming, that doesn't make it any easier.

Gay & Robinson, founded in 1889, is one of the oldest companies in Hawaii.

But the last five years were very difficult, according to Kennett, with mounting debt due to low sugar prices and high energy costs.

In July 2007, Gay & Robinson announced a partnership with Pacific West Energy LLC to develop a fuel ethanol plant derived from sugar cane. Kennett said there was still hope for sugar cane production if those plans come to fruition.

But oil prices collapsed in mid-2008, said Kennett, and every major liquid alternate energy proposal in Hawaii came to a screeching halt.

In April, the company leased 3,400 acres to Dow AgroSciences.

Kennett said some Gay & Robinson employees are being hired by Dow AgroSciences, and that he hopes more will be after the sugar plant's closure.

Gay & Robinson still plans to offer housing for its retirees and employees, said Kennett in his statement. About 30 employees will remain to take care of the ranch, which will continue to operate.

With the closure of the Gay & Robinson plant, Alexander & Baldwin's mill on Maui, operated by Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., remains the lone outpost of sugar production. But A&B is also pondering whether to exit the business due to lower sugar prices and decreased output.