From its founding by French immigrants on the banks of the Brandywine River, to its rise as global chemical behemoth, DuPont has influenced 200 years of Delaware history.
Starting with powder mills along Brandywine River in 1802, the DuPont company has grown and transformed over the past two centuries to become a global powerhouse.
DuPont was so entwined with Delaware’s families and fortunes that residents called the company “Uncle Dupey.” The moniker implied that “Uncle Dupey” would provide “good jobs and support my family for life.”
DuPont not only felt like a family company, it was a family company. Starting with founder Éleuthère Irénée du Pont, the company was led by du Pont family members for more than 100 years.
But times have changed. The last family member to lead the company was Lammont du Pont Copeland who relinquished control in 1967.
As recently as the 1990’s, DuPont employed more than 25,000 in Delaware. After selling off various businesses and downsizing others, the number of Delaware DuPont workers is now around 7,000.
Friday’s announced merger with Dow Chemical was accompanied by news that 10 percent of the global workforce will be let go and more job cuts could come after the merger is finalized sometime next year.
“It is a sad day,” former state senator and now leader of the Delaware Republican party Charlie Copeland said. Copeland is also Lammont du Pont’s grandson. “I think it’s catastrophic for Delaware.”
Copeland said unlike in the 80’s or 90’s when Delaware had a rising credit card industry to make up for the job cuts at DuPont, there is no rising industry in Delaware in 2015. “I don’t know how you can look at a DuPont/Dow merger and not think that some number of those people – and 10 percent is just a good start – are going to be gone.”
With the merger expected to be finalized late next year, voters can expect lots of discussion about the state’s economic future ahead of the 2016 gubernatorial election. “The state revenues are already in a crisis mode. They’re looking at a $200 million potential deficit this year alone,” said Copeland.
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said he’s been in contact with DuPont’s new CEO Ed Breen about the merger and has expressed his best case for the quality of Delaware’s workforce. “Obviously my interest is in making sure that we do all we can so that Delaware has an important part of the combined entity,” Markell said. “Seven thousand [employees] is still a huge number of employees in a state like Delaware, it’s a huge number in any state.”
Other state leaders also offered their thoughts on the merger and its ramifications for the state. Most, like U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, were concerned with potential job losses for Delaware workers. “My focus will be on the pensioners and employees whose lives could be affected. It’s those families and our community I’m concerned about,” Coons said in a statement.
Delaware’s other U.S. Senator, fellow Democrat Tom Carper, saw the announcement as a call to action. “While the news certainly feels like a warning sign for turbulence ahead, I believe that in adversity lies opportunity,” Carper said. “We can sit around, wring our hands and bemoan the hand that Delaware has been dealt – or we can roll up our sleeves, join hands and get to work finding the opportunity within this perceived adversity.”
It still isn’t clear just how many jobs will be lost in Delaware as a result of the cost cutting plans ahead of the merger. DuPont said 10 percent of its global workforce will be eliminated. It’s also not known yet where DowDuPont plans to locate the three businesses it plans to split into after the merger. Company leaders say DowDuPont will maintain their current headquarter locations in Michigan and Wilmington.