Labinal plant closing news has community wondering ‘what’s next?’

Operations at Labinal Power Systems will cease by the end of 2016.

Letters from Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Salisbury’s mayor imploring Labinal to reconsider had no effect and will not reverse the company’s plan to close next year.

The account supervisor for the corporation told the Salisbury Independent while Labinal officials thank government leaders and the supportive Salisbury community, the fact is, “business has shrunk.”

“This business decision has been driven by an increasingly competitive market and price pressures. In order to maintain our competitive position in the aerospace industry, we must restructure our operations and consolidate our U.S. wire manufacturing business into one facility. Labinal intends to merge its U.S. business at our facility in Denton, Texas,” Stefanie Santos McLeese said.

Another 100 to 150 employees will be hired in Denton, and Salisbury employees will be given the first opportunity for those positions.

“The facility would not have survived this long without the dedication of our employees, elected leaders and local business community,” McLeese added, stressing the move is mandatory.

Salisbury employees learned of the closing on Jan. 14. Company policy prohibits them from commenting to the media, and several approached and asked for comment refused.

McLeese called it “an emotional time for the Labinal Salisbury team” but said most of them are understanding of “the business drivers behind the decision, and are appreciative of the transition support they have and will continue to receive.”

Located on Glen Avenue in a 166,000-square-foot structure, Labinal employees 650. Employees will receive transition packages and job training support, McLeese said, and be helped with job searches and resume development.

Wor-Wic Community College will also help, said the president Dr. Ray Hoy.

“What we generally do when there is a business closing … is to help transition workers and, if necessary, train or retrain to get them prepared for another occupation. We are poised to step in and help as quickly as possible,” he said.

Late last week, Hoy met with county officials to determine the school’s role and decide how to best help Labinal employees.

“We have to look at what job opportunities are available in our community and see what job training we can put in place,” he said.

When Tyson closed, Wor-Wic started offering commercial driver’s license training.

“That was exclusively due to that closing, so they could they go and find jobs to make the same money or better. Many employees went into the CNA program,” he said, and became certified nursing assistants.

“They changed careers and got training for that, with so many seniors and nursing homes here,” he said.

Wor-Wic also assisted when Dresser closed.

“Our role is to address the education and training needs of the citizens of our community. There is no greater need than when a business is closing and people are about to lose their jobs. That has got to be devastating for them and for the community.

“If they need a new skill set, we stop in, work with them, design specific courses and curriculum that will address the needs of the employees,” he said.

Council President Jake Day was pleased city and county officials had “a very productive meeting” with the Tony Rodriguez, Labinal’s general manager, and Wor-Wic representatives last week.

“Our concern is with the people and the property. We want to help the people if they are not moving, and most of them are not going to be moving. We know we’ve got until December 2016, so we’re going to have a good two years of work to do. Then we’ll figure out what to do with this property.

“This is not the first plant closure and it won’t be the last. In its place will be something else. Last year Standard Register closed and we lost 400 jobs and Delmarva Power moved additional jobs to Salisbury. We will see the similar strategy and a full community endeavor on this,” Day said.

Soon after the closing was announced, Mayor Jim Ireton said Labinal officials probably didn’t realize “the strident reaction that we were going to have to this.”

“I have dealt with three straight days of, ‘Jim I’ve got two members of my family who work there. What are they doing to do?’ We are going to work like hell to get this decision reversed. We have to get ready for retraining and take a look at aerospace engineering and see what goes on in our industrial park, if any skills at this plant can be transferred to another plant,” he said.

Like Mikulski, Ireton wrote to Peter Lengyel, president and chief executive officer of Safran North America, which owns Labinal.

Mikulski told Lengyel she was distressed by  news of the closure.

“I urge you to rescind this decision … (It) will cause great economic and emotional strain to the skilled workforce and the community,” she wrote.

“I have fought tirelessly each year to ensure that federal funds were made available for the procurement of Chinook helicopters so Labinal had the resources needed to do its job.  Most recently, while serving as the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee during the last Congress, I secured $994 million to procure 32 Chinooks. What can we do to get you to rescind this decision?” the United States senator wrote.

Likewise, Ireton wrote that the closing will force hundreds of unemployed to search for jobs “in an already struggling economy.”

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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