Ashland Inc.’s announcement that it is moving its headquarters and less than 100 jobs to Delaware marks an investment in a state where the company has had a convoluted and, at times, controversial history.
The new headquarters will be located at 500 Hercules Road in Brandywine Springs, where the company already has an office campus with about 235 workers. The move is expected to happen by Jan. 1 2020.
“Ashland has a long history of innovation and success, including right here in Delaware,” Gov. John Carney said via email. “We’re thrilled they have selected Delaware for their corporate headquarters. This is additional proof that Delaware remains a great place for companies of any size to put down roots, grow, and create jobs.”
The move to Delaware will follow a corporate downsizing at the 94-year-old company that recently fell out of the Fortune 500.
Ashland says it will be “significantly downsizing” its current headquarters in Covington, Kentucky, in advance of the relocation with some of the 48 jobs there being eliminated and others being moved to its facility in Dublin, Ohio.
The remainder will be brought to Delaware, along with employees from its offices in Lexington, Kentucky. About 58 people work at that office, although some of those jobs also will be eliminated or relocated to Dublin, while other employees will be asked to work remotely.
The downsizing is part of a plan Ashland CEO William Wulfsohn announced in May to cut $120 million in expenses. Workers at the two Kentucky offices affected by the move were told of the downsizing on Tuesday.
Ashland saw its stock price jump to a 10-year high of $85.60 per share after the announcement, which coincided with a third-quarter earnings report that showed sales up 12 percent and a $66 million positive swing in net revenue compared to last year.
Founded in Kentucky 94 years ago, Ashland first became a household name here when the company purchased former Hercules Inc. for $3.3 billion in 2008.
Hercules was broken out of the DuPont Co. and once employed 1,800 people at the global headquarters it built in downtown Wilmington. But the company began to falter in the early 2000s after a series of questionable business decisions, leading to its eventual sale.
Ashland later moved its new acquisition out of the city, leaving 125,600 square feet of space vacant in Wilmington’s Hercules Plaza.
Despite the move, Delaware agreed in 2012 to provide Ashland with $10 million worth of taxpayer grants in exchange for the company’s promise to add 300 jobs in five years, bringing its total local workforce to more than 800. The deal was one of the largest economic development incentive packages approved under former Gov. Jack Markell.
But just two years later, Ashland sold its Delaware-based water technologies business to a private investment firm, which renamed the new standalone company Solenis. That business is now headquartered at the 21st Century Plaza in Brandywine Hundred.
The remaining company failed to reach its hiring goal and in 2015 was forced to repay nearly $335,000 of the state grant money it had received up to that point.
The same year, the now-defunct Delaware Economic Development Office helped Solenis win a $1.1 million taxpayer grant to help the company add 122 additional jobs by 2017 – a deal that would have brought its total Delaware workforce to 336. The company exceeded that goal by 31 jobs, state officials said Thursday.
No financial incentives have been offered to Ashland in connection with its impending move to New Castle County, according to the Delaware Prosperity Partnership.
The DPP was created by the General Assembly last summer when DEDO was dissolved and its responsibilities split between the new public-private partnership and the Division of Small Business.
Ashland’s impending relocation marks the first major accomplishment for the new organization since its new CEO Kurt Foreman took the helm in April.
“There wasn’t a lot of selling involved because they already were familiar with Delaware,” Foreman said. “It was more about being ready with the information they were looking for to help them make their decision.”
While Foreman said he is happy to have helped Ashland, he stressed that attracting new companies will not be the sole focus of the partnership.
“We want that to be only one part of our strategy,” he said. “There is nothing better than for those companies we want to bring here to see existing companies in the state grow and thrive. That’s a big part of where our focus is.”