Costa: Coronavirus creating 'uncertainty'

Hank Hayes • Mar 5, 2020 at 6:30 PM

KINGSPORT­ — Coronavirus fears are creating “uncertainty” following a U.S.-China trade war, Eastman Board Chair and CEO Mark Costa told more than 200 people attending Wednesday's Regional Leaders Breakfast.

"The economy was really recovering in January," Costa said. "Things were feeling good and then bam, the coronavirus. The good news is the strength of our cash flow and the strength of our company will allow us to push through this, but the coronavirus is definitely going to be a challenge. It's dramatically slowed down the economy."

Eastman is restricting international travel, said Costa, who added it's really important to stay calm about the spread of the disease.

As for business travel in the United States, Costa told the Times News it's being reduced to "business critical."

Costa confirmed no Eastman employee has tested positive for the coronavirus, including its employees in China.

"We have nine plants in China. Eight are up and running," Costa said. "The one in Wuhan is not. Supposedly, it will be up and running next week. We are waiting for government notification. (The coronavirus) should start dying down as it warms up."

Costa said Eastman, a Kingsport-based specialty products maker marking its centennial year, is expecting slow to no growth in 2020 following a year that saw a 9% decline in revenues and a 13% decrease in earnings growth.

Still, said Costa, 2019 saw Eastman earn $400 million in new revenue through innovation and increase its dividend going to investors for the 10th straight year.

The Eastman products expected to lead the way forward include Tritan, Saflex, Naia and Llumar.

Costa outlined proactive measures the company is taking to improve its performance and create its own growth in a challenging environment.

“We aren’t standing still and waiting for things to get better,” said Costa. “We are diligently controlling the things that we can and we’re continuing to invest in innovation for our future. We have a number of innovation programs that are making tremendous progress and creating exciting opportunities for growth.”

Costa noted the company is particularly excited about new growth opportunities being created through its recent investments in the circular economy and efforts to reduce waste in the environment.

“Eastman is well positioned to be a leader in how our industry can enable the circular economy," Costa pointed out. "We have developed multiple solutions to enable the collection of plastic waste to be reused in new products, which also substantially reduces our greenhouse gas footprint compared with processes using fossil feedstocks. Our game-changing technologies align with our innovation-driven growth strategy and commitment to create value through sustainability.

“I am tremendously proud of our work in this area and the implication that it can have on global society,” added Costa. “I have long said that Eastman is a company of problem solvers, and our people have the capabilities to tackle the world’s biggest problems, which we have demonstrated time and again. Closing the loop of waste is a complex problem that has to be solved with innovative solutions.”

Costa thanked the crowd for their support of Eastman and their continuing efforts to work together for regional economic development, citing progress that has been made on several fronts.

“There has been positive momentum throughout the region where we are all economically interconnected and stand to benefit from an intentional and collaborative approach to regional economic development,” said Costa. “I’m convinced this type of approach will ensure our collective success for another 100 years.”

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