Dan Borné is president of the Louisiana Chemical Association, which represents 66 chemical manufacturing companies that employ more than 24,000 workers at more than 90 locations throughout the state. He’s also president of the 600-member Louisiana Chemical Industry Alliance, a partnership of Louisiana’s chemical plants and many of their contractors, vendors and suppliers.
But Borné is best known to most of us as the public-address announcer for LSU home football games in Tiger Stadium and basketball games in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
“There have been some great moments in that stadium. It’s a lot more fun when you win,” he says. “Every time they change athletic directors, I always go and say, ‘Look, I want to make sure I’m still in.’”
Before joining the LCA, Borné was a vice president with Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corporation. He has also worked for a state senator, a congressman, three U.S. senators and a governor. Borné has anchored television news and sports and done radio play-by-play. He has a bachelor’s degree from Nicholls State and a master’s from LSU, and is on an advisory board for LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication.
1. How does the current economic cycle compare to others you have seen?
The current cycle is unlike any that I have ever dealt with in 30 years in industry and 10 years in government. Sometime in 2008, people stopped spending money. There was a vicious uptick in energy prices, raising the price of gasoline and diesel. That ate up a lot of discretionary income, and it raised the prices of a number of things. So when you couple this with the credit crisis, and the collapse of the housing and the automobile markets, you have a recipe for very tough times in manufacturing, including chemical manufacturing. So this drop in demand was a precipitous, vicious drop, as if off of a very high cliff.
2. What’s the mood of the chemical industry right now?
My own view is a very cautious, very guarded view. Because we are not only in a national recession, we are in a worldwide recession. It used to be if your domestic economy was suffering a bit, you could sometimes land your product in other countries and still compete very well against production in those countries. For example, if the American economy was going through a down cycle, but the European economy was not, we could send American goods to Europe very competitively because the value of the dollar versus the euro would make our products cheap over there. But if nobody’s buying what you’re making, what difference does it make what the currency exchange is?
3. So what’s the outlook?
It’s going to be a difficult year for us here in the Louisiana petrochemical industry. We’ve managed through down cycles before, so eventually things are going to pick up again. It’s going to be a year to really manage your assets in ways that recognize the fact that this American economy will not turn around on a dime.
4. Is the chemical business a lagging indicator for the rest of the economy?
The chemical industry generally lags both the uptick and the downtick. It used to be years ago it was a three- or four-month lag. But e-business and the computer revolution has made inventory control and lots of things different, so my gut tells me we experience the upside quicker and we experience the downside quicker now.
5. How long do you think the lag is now?
There’s no way of knowing. A lot of it just depends on what sector you’re selling into. Every one of these companies has very complex business arrangements with raw materials suppliers and with customers. So with all of these things interconnecting, it’s impossible to predict how any one company or how any one plant will fare. When credit is continually more difficult to get, it favors companies that have cash, so you’ve got to run another set of scenarios. So it’s a complex cafeteria of factors.
6. Dow just laid off 270 workers in Plaquemine and Hahnville as part of a plan to cut 11% of its global workforce. Do you think more job cuts are coming in our area?
It’s impossible to say. There are so many variables involved. A certain plant, for example, may make a certain niche chemical that goes into a certain pharmaceutical that people are going to buy irrespective of the economy.
7. How important is the petrochemical business in terms of buffering the Baton Rouge area from the affects of the global recession?
It’s huge. For every hard hat at a plant, you’ve got six people working somewhere else because of the amount of dollars that get spread around because of what the plants and their suppliers do. We’ve got a real blessed situation here because you have the plants and the refineries. Then you have state government, then you have two huge universities. Each of these universities is an economic engine in themselves. If state government gets a really serious cold, you’ll see this area shiver a lot. Hopefully, the combination of what they’re doing at the Capitol and what they’re doing in Washington will mitigate some of the dire potential of a $2 billion budget cut.
8. What does it mean for the Baton Rouge area to finally get into compliance with federal ozone standards?
It’s absolutely tremendous. That took a lot of work from DEQ, industry, consumers, LEAN and others. The next challenge is to stay in compliance with the new eight-hour standard, and a lot of work is being done on that, too. It’s a giant plus for the metro area.
9. How did you get the announcing gig with LSU?
I did news and sports for Channel 9 from 1968 to 1970, and one of the things I did was cover LSU football. Sid Crocker worked at Channel 9, and he also did public address at Tiger Stadium. When Sid retired [in 1985], I wrote a letter to Bob Brodhead, who was the athletic director at the time. In August of 1986, I got a call from LSU out of the blue [to set up a meeting]. They said, “We have your letter about being the PA announcer. Do you still want to do this?” I said “Yeah.” They said, “Well, you can.” I said “Why?” They said, “No one else asked.” I did the first game of the season, and Brodhead called Sunday morning and said, “You did a great job, guy. You’re in.” I didn’t realize I was auditioning.
10. What’s it like to have some excitement again at LSU basketball home games?
The Xavier game [in which LSU lost 80-70] was one of the turning points of the season because it proved to this team that it could really play basketball, and the place went nuts. It’s a real testament to [new head coach] Trent [Johnson] coming in and installing a system and giving the kids a vision of winning and giving them the tools to win, and inspiring them to put those tools to work. It’s pretty much the same team that we had last year. That’s no disrespect to [former coach] John [Brady], whom I love and worked with for almost 10 years, but sometimes changes have to be made. There’s still a real strong football dominance in this town, but I think if you win and you win in an exciting manner like this team’s winning, people will come.