Eastman Chemical Co. was originally founded nearly 100 years ago in Kingsport, Tennessee, so Cari Parker is naturally excited to celebrate the company’s centennial anniversary at her facility in 2020.
Parker has only held the position of site leader since September 2017, but in that time alone, Eastman has completed the previously announced Tritanâ¢ copolyester expansion in Kingsport, as well as expansion of PETG (polyethylene terephthalate) and PCTG (polycyclohexane dimethyl terephthalate modified by glycol) copolyester capacity, an increase of 25 percent of total specialty copolyester capacity.
“The Tritan platform continues to see strong customer adoption around the world, and we’re proud to produce it in Kingsport,” Parker said. “Eastman has invested heavily in our Kingsport site and continues to do so, and I know that anyone who works in Kingsport can see that and feel that. I have a great sense of pride knowing that I’m part of a team that, day in and day out, produces materials that enhance the quality of life around the world in a material way.”
Parker is also responsible for two plasticizer manufacturing sites in Chestertown, Maryland, and Kohtla-JÃ¤rve, Estonia, but she said her biggest responsibility is still the “safe, reliable, quality operation of the largest integrated chemical manufacturing site in North America” — which is Eastman’s flagship site.
“The site really is a wonder to see,” Parker beamed. “We have 600 buildings on approximately 4,000 acres of land, and the main plant site covers 900 acres. Our rail link provides railcar switching and track maintenance for the plant site; we have over 37 miles of Eastman track, and rail link supports approximately 5,000 railcar movements per week. There are more than 28 miles of paved roads within the plant.
“We have incredibly talented teams of operators, mechanics, engineers and supervisors who work together in units ranging from large-scale continuous gas production to batch polymer processing to fiber spinning to process demonstration. We also produce electricity and steam for internal consumption at the site.”
Parker said the most important skill for her position is the ability to listen and ask questions as a way to connect with people. “I think it’s essential that leaders are capable of putting themselves in the shoes of others who come from a variety of diverse backgrounds and perspectives,” she explained. “Our manufacturing organization includes global plant sites in the U.S., South America, Europe and Asia. In Kingsport, we have every function and business represented in some way. They’re very different roles, and they’re all important.
“That old adage of ‘I don’t care what you know until I know that you care’ rings true for me. The followers of a leader need to know the leader has noble intentions for the people and the company. The best way to achieve that is to engage with people.
Engaging all our team members is necessary to remain competitive in the global marketplace. I believe the best ideas can come from any role, position or level, and tapping into the diversity of talent we have can create a competitive advantage for us. Listening is a great way to engage!”
All in for safety
Across the company, Eastman has a guiding safety brand: ALL IN FOR SAFETY. “And I believe that we live that brand,” Parker added. “Our folks do care about their own safety as well as the safety of the people working alongside them, and we care about safety in the holistic sense of working toward a zero-incident culture where we approach all tasks with the mindset that all incidents — injuries, environmental releases, process safety incidents — are preventable.
“This year, my leadership team is driving a discipline of operations in key operator-centric tools and systems, which enable the operator to do the right thing, the right way, every time. Two core messages that we live by and guide our actions on a daily basis are: 1. If you can’t do a job safely, then don’t do it, and 2. If you don’t know, ask.”
Parker recounted the toughest challenge she has faced as site leader in Kingsport was a mechanical malfunction in coal gasification operations that led to explosions in that unit. “I remain forever thankful that there were no life-threatening injuries,” she stated. “Our culture of caring carried us through the recovery and rebuild. There were so many selfless acts of caring on that day and in the many weeks after.
“Soon after the incident, I asked our team to focus on a single guiding principle: a safe and fast rebuild and restart.
“We were able to address the cause and correct it to prevent that kind of incident from happening again. We safely finished repairs and restarted our gasification operations in 108 days — a rapid response that most people thought was impossible.
“It happened because our Eastman teams, contractors and suppliers worked together and brought world-class skills and expertise to quickly support our customers and rebuild the unit.”
Another way Eastman is working to improve safety performance for the industry is through support of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ (AIChE’s) Doing a World of Good campaign. “We actively support the undergraduate process safety learning initiative, a major global effort to accelerate process safety education and better prepare graduates for the workforce,” Parker said. “We recently held process safety boot camps for chemical engineering students at the University of Tennessee and North Carolina State University.”
Maintaining talent pipeline through community involvement
The Kingsport site is deeply woven into the local community, focusing its Office of Corporate Responsibility on the “four E’s” of environment, education, empowerment and economic development. “These all roll into Eastman’s overarching mission of how we see our responsibility to the community: Good for Good,” Parker explained. “And that Eastman mission and commitment to Kingsport and the surrounding community can be seen and felt in many ways.”
Eastman advocates for progress, education and welfare for the community through programs like United Way of Greater Kingsport, Supplies for Soldiers, and some exciting education programs that include GEM4STEAM (Growing Educational Mentors for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics), MathElites and SciencElites, and the FIRST Robotics Competition.
Education is especially important to Eastman and the entire industry as companies face the retirement wave of baby boomers and the workforce gap this transition will leave behind.
“Maintaining a talent pipeline to fill operations and maintenance jobs is critical, and it’s an area where we’ve already focused our efforts,” Parker stressed. “We have a highly skilled workforce, and we’ll continue to need talented people to execute our growth strategy. Eastman invests heavily in educational efforts, and in Kingsport, we have partnered with other manufacturing companies, government entities and Northeast State Community College to form the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership.
“That collaboration led to construction of a state-of-the-art facility called the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing, which provides training in the latest methodologies and equipment used in advanced manufacturing to help ensure we have a successful workforce in the future.”
Parker said she is personally invested in two community organizations with rich backgrounds in the region: United Way of Greater Kingsport and Big Brothers Big Sisters of East Tennessee.
“I’ve served as a champion of United Way community campaigns and have served on the board because I believe I have a responsibility to help others succeed,” she remarked. “Through Big Brothers Big Sisters, I’m able to extend my passion for mentoring to young people outside of Eastman. By giving a bit of myself and my time, I have the chance to help my ‘little sister’ through life’s challenges and succeed in life. That’s a privilege and opportunity I wouldn’t trade for anything.”
Eastman Kingsport 100 Eastman Road Kingsport, TN (423) 229-2000 www.eastman.com
Products: Chemicals, fibers and plastics (cellulose esters, hydroquinone, polyester, Estronâ¢ acetate filter tow, Texanolâ¢ ester alcohol, Eastman Tritanâ¢ copolyester, Eastman 168â¢ non-phthalate plasticizer)
Size: Approximately 4,000 acres, with the main plant site covering 900 acres