DuPont no longer a part of the community fabric
By Lynn R. Parks
When Guy Longo, fresh out of college, arrived in Seaford in 1965 to work at the DuPont nylon plant, he found a booming, vibrant factory.
“There were so many projects going, so much capital investment in the plant,” he said. “Seaford truly was the nylon capital of the world.”
Today, things at the plant are different.
“I guess the word I would use is ‘bleak,’ ” said Longo, who retired from the DuPont Co. in 2001 and worked at the plant until November as a contractor. “It is an enormous structure, and you can walk up that long [entry] hall and never see anybody. Years ago, you would see 200 people from one end of the hall to the other.”
In its heyday, in the mid-1960s to 1970s, the plant employed more than 4,000 people. Today, about 650 people work there.
At one time, the $8.5 million plant made all of the world’s nylon. The fiber was invented in the company’s Wilmington laboratories and helped to make “DuPont” a household word.
But in 2003, its production accounted for less than 5 percent of the nylon produced worldwide.
And effective Saturday, the plant is no longer affiliated with DuPont, the company that so changed the character of Seaford. Subsidiaries of Koch (pronounced “koke”) Industries Inc., based in Wichita, Kansas, have purchased Invista, the DuPont subsidiary that includes the plant, for $4.2 billion. The diverse Koch Industries operates in 30 countries and has dealings in petroleum, asphalt, natural gas, gas liquids, chemicals, plastics and fibers, chemical technology equipment, minerals, fertilizers, ranching, securities and finance.
Invista has 18,000 employees at 50 sites including Seaford. The subsidiaries that are purchasing Invista are KED Fiber Ltd. and KED Fiber LLC. Invista sites, including the one in Seaford, will retain the Invista name.
Representatives for Koch referred all queries to Invista. Cheryl Parker, a spokeswoman for Invista, said that plans for the Invista businesses are incomplete. Sites, including the Seaford plant, will receive instructions from Invista as those decisions are made.
There are “no plans in place for closing” the Seaford site, she added.
Longo said that the sale was the right thing for DuPont to do. The nylon fiber produced at the plant “doesn’t fit in the DuPont portfolio anymore,” he added.
“But whether this is right for the community, we will have to wait and see.”
Seaford is transformed
Seaford was transformed in 1939, when the DuPont Co. opened the world’s first nylon plant here.
Domenick Monaco, 90, remembers when the announcement was made that the plant would be built in Seaford. There was a big parade through downtown, he said, featuring bands and fire engines.
“It was the greatest news around,” said Marian Monaco, speaking for her husband. “People were really tickled.”
Marian said that in 1939, her husband owned an Esso gas station on alternate US 13, where Harbor House is now, and also had a trucking business. He used his trucks to move many DuPont employees, including Paul duPont, who oversaw the plant for a couple of years, from Wilmington to Seaford.
Monaco’s father, Mike, owned a grocery store, My Own Little Grocery Store, on High Street.
“DuPont meant a good living for a lot of people,” Marian Monaco said. It also meant increased business for her father-in-law and husband, and a strong customer based for Monaco’s restaurant, which Marian and Domenick operated from 1947 to 1973.
“There is no doubt that the plant became a hallmark of the community,” said Longo, who was a city councilman from 1978 to 1984 and Seaford’s mayor from 1984 to 1998. “Seaford went from a small, agricultural community to a large, industrial community. The significant growth of Seaford was because of the services the plant needed and the jobs it brought.”
Dr. Ken Madden, who came to Seaford in 1952 to serve as superintendent of the school district, said that the plant, and the people who came here to work for the DuPont Company, changed the complexion of the community.
“DuPont certainly made a difference in the education level of the community,” Madden said. “I can remember reading a study in the 1950s, that said that Seaford had one of the highest education levels of any community in Delaware. That was primarily due to the DuPont Company.”
Children of the engineers and management-level employees who came to Seaford to work at the plant tended to do well in school, he said. And their parents tended to support the schools.
“I was often criticized for not having PTAs in the schools,” Madden said. “And I always replied that I had tried several times to start them, and people said, ‘What do we need them for?’ They thought things were going pretty well, and they were involved in the schools anyway.”
Madden said that DuPont employees regularly served on the Seaford School Board. In addition, “DuPont was always willing to lend support personnel to any project, not just in the schools but in the community,” he said.
DuPont employees often helped with building projects, for example, he said. Don Frieday, an engineer at the plant, designed and oversaw the construction of the Seaford Fire Hall on Cannon Street, said Marshall Nesbitt, Seaford, who came to the plant in 1940 to run its cafeteria.
The plant also made a difference to the district in financial terms. Because of the real value of the facility, the Seaford School District’s tax base was higher than those of surrounding districts, Madden said.
The company built the Seaford Golf and Country Club in 1940 exclusively for its supervisors, Nesbitt said. The former manager of the plant’s cafeteria, Nesbitt was made manager of the country club in 1964, at that time owned by the DuPont Co.
“A select few from the community were invited to join,” Nesbitt said, but the club was not opened to everyone until the 1970s. The club now has no affiliation with the DuPont Co.
Nesbitt also served on the Seaford City Council for 23 years, from 1965 to 1988. He said that it was not unusual for DuPont employees to be involved in community activities.
“The company was really interested in the well-being of Seaford,” he said.
What will the future hold?
Marian Monaco said that the plant meant a higher standard of living for many families in the area. Before 1939, young men who needed work had to leave the area, or take less than good-paying jobs. Before DuPont, they didn’t even know that things like company-provided health insurance and retirement existed.
But with the plant, “local fellows were able to stay here,” Monaco said. “I know a lot of families, that I don’t know where they would have been without DuPont.”
DuPont retiree Longo hopes that the plant is able to generate enough income that Koch keeps it running. Working against it, he said, is the facility’s age.
“Its costs of operation are high, in energy, heating and lighting, compared to modern sites,” he said.
But in its favor is the fact that the DuPont Company has been cutting costs at the plant for years. “DuPont and Invista have been investing to keep it competitive, and working to get costs to where they need to be,” he said.
“DuPont has done the right thing,” he added. “Hopefully, Koch will do what’s right, what they have to do to keep it running. I am not too pessimistic about its future.”
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