Thermo King will leave 235 jobless

LOUISVILLE, Ga. --- When Joyce Quattry heard that Thermo King was closing, she wondered where all the plant's employees would find new jobs.


"There was nothing to indicate that anything was wrong, and then out of the blue they shut it down," she said. "We don't have any other industry like Thermo King."

The plant's closing sometime next year will leave more than 200 people without a job.

"We need more industry in this area, but it's not going to happen in time for these people," Quattry said. "It's a shame."

Thermo King, which makes refrigerated rail cars and truck trailers, has been in Louisville since the 1960s and employs 235 people, 179 of whom live in Jefferson County.

About one-third of those workers will be able to retire, and the rest can apply for other jobs within the Ingersoll Rand family, corporate officials said.

Earlier this month, Ingersoll Rand announced that production would be moving to a plant in Hastings, Neb., which will expand.

"You don't have a community as small as ours and lose 200-plus jobs without affecting everyone," said Lillian Easterlin, the executive director of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce. "It's quite sad. I think everyone feels a little ambushed, very emotional."

Easterlin said the chamber and other community leaders are forming a task force to provide counseling and job search services for Thermo King employees. Having an exodus of Thermo King employees would be noticeable to the city of 2,700.

"We're tackling this about as many ways as we know how," she said. "It's quite a pickle we're in."

While there might not be any jobs in Louisville for the soon-to-be-displaced workers, there will most likely be jobs for them in other parts of the area.

Heather Hunter, the branch manager for Augusta Staffing Associates, she said she and her staff are always looking to fill skilled manual labor positions.

"If they're willing to drive to the Augusta area, I could put them to work tomorrow," she said.

Hunter said that in her experience, however, workers are often unwilling to drive out of their area to get work.

Lousiville is 40 miles south of Augusta.

"It's not that there aren't jobs; they just aren't willing to drive," she said. "It's a shame, because some of the people have some great skills."

Randy Hatcher, the president of MAU Workforce Solutions, said it's going to be hard for the hourly-wage line workers to make sense of a commute from Jefferson County.

"My biggest concern would be for the hourly workforce," he said. "Management and skilled workers will have no trouble finding new positions."

Those hourly workers would have to pay nearly 10 times as much for transportation to a job in Augusta, he estimated, and there just isn't room for that in many workers' wages.

"It will be potentially very tough for them," he said. "They might have to leave the area to compete."

It's never easy to deliver bad news, and Ingersoll Rand communications director Perri Richman said it wasn't a decision the corporation took lightly.

"Decisions like this one are some of the most difficult we have to make," Richman said. "It had absolutely nothing to do with the performance of the plant, the people or the leadership."

Shutting down the plant is an effort to "consolidate manufacturing where it makes sense," according to a press release by Ingersoll Rand.

"For those employees who are not able to find other opportunities within the company, we will be providing them with a severance payment to help them bridge the gap to their new employment, as well as outplacement services to help them find that next opportunity," said Brian Carter, the manufacturing leader for the Louisville plant.