The one-minute expert: BTR

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The Independent Online
What does this one stand for?

It's the airport code for Baton Rouge.

Get serious.

No, really. It's on the Internet so of course it must be true.

I thought it was a big industrial conglomerate?

You must be thinking of some other BTR - British Tyre and Rubber perhaps? This one is a town in Louisiana.

It doesn't sound very exciting.

On the contrary, although it used to be quite quiet - it's main industry was making tyres - in the last couple of decades it has boomed, taking over lots of smaller communities.

Is it still growing?

Not as fast as it used to, although it did pick up a dozen hamlets last year. The trouble with being huge is that it's harder to find takeover targets that are big enough to make a difference.

Why is it in the news?

The mayor, Ian Strachan, plans to tell everyone how the town is doing later this week - sort of a civic annual report and accounts. Most of it will focus on the local businesses that came with the communities it gobbled up.

And the prognosis is good?

Not too good. The city fathers issued a profit warning this spring. Municipal analysts are predicting a profit of about pounds 1.4bn, down from pounds 1.5bn last year.

So people are bailing out and moving elsewhere?

Most are sticking it out, although its share price tumbled earlier this year. Many are waiting to see if it follows Hansonville down the demerger trail.

Demerger?

Rather like what Margaret Thatcher did with the Greater London Council.

And what is Hansonville?

A neighbouring hamlet that also blossomed into a metropolis. Its main industries are bricks, coal, chemicals and tobacco. Earlier this year its Lord Mayor announced he was breaking it up into separate boroughs.

Lord Mayor? Why doesn't BTR have a Lord Mayor?

Bit of a sore point that. BTR's most famous leader, Owen Green Pictured above left), was a bit of an iconoclast. He wouldn't even join the CBI, so he was only made a Knight Mayor, not a Lord Mayor.

CBI?

Confederation of Big Inhabitations.

I gather Baton Rouge and Hansonville are rivals?

Deadly. Baton Rouge has always seen itself as the side wearing the white hats, because of the way it has pumped investment into its new properties. Hanson, say observers, is more of an absentee landlord.

So what do they do in BTR?

Just about everything. They make polymers for Taiwan, and sealing systems for motor manufacturers like Chrysler and Ford. They also have largish firms like Formica and Hawker Siddeley and a huge packaging business with a turnover of pounds 1bn. The city used to have Dunlop Slazenger, the sporting goods manufacturer, but traded it last year.

And why are its profits slipping?

Strachan blames it on the polymers business. The company is also going through a re-organisation. Under Sir Owen it specialised in dominating niche markets where it could get fat margins.

And now?

Mayor Strachan wants it to focus more on dominating a few, chosen global markets.

Sounds sound.

Respectable, even. But that's what happens to boom towns.

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