Originally created 01/08/97

Plant closing will cost 175 their jobs



THOMSON, Ga. - Michigan-based United Technologies Automotive will close its Thomson plant by late June, costing 175 employees their job.

The plant, which survived a 50-job reduction last year, is the latest casualty in a highly competitive market, said Tom Andrew, communications director at the company's Dearborn, Mich., headquarters.

"It's been very difficult for us," he said. "We had hoped, when we announced layoffs and consolidation elsewhere, the moves taken then would help Thomson and help our business. But neither have happened."

Operations at the Thomson plant, which manufactures automotive door panels for customers including Ford and GM, will be moved to a similar site in Holland, Mich., as soon as local customer obligations are met. The newly renovated 125,000-square-foot site will be put up for sale.

Although functions of the plant will be moved, employees will not.

"We don't anticipate there will be jobs available at other UT plants," Mr. Andrew said. Employees have been notified of the closing.

UT Automotive, a division of United Technologies, includes 90 plants in 18 countries worldwide with $3.1 billion in annual sales. Thomson is the company's only Georgia facility.

Mr. Andrew said efforts to save the plant included a December 1995 announcement that the Holland, Mich., plant would be closed to guarantee survival of the Thomson plants and another in Howe, Ind.

Last June, that decision was changed and the Howe plant was closed. Now that Thomson is closing, the Holland plant will be the sole survivor.

"For our business interests, it was decided it's best to keep Holland."

Riley Stamey, chairman of the McDuffie County Economic Development Authority, said the closure is regrettable, but hardly a surprise.

"We hate to lose them, naturally, but that particular company is very sensitive to the automotive industry conditions," he said. "We've had discussions with the company for six to nine months about declining market conditions and knew a decision was going to be made."

The loss of a major employer in a community like Thomson hurts, he said, especially on the heels of last year's announcement that the Thomson Co., a clothing maker since 1936, was closing and idling 300 workers.

The UT announcement makes the community appreciate even more new companies, such as Advance Auto Parts, whose $35 million warehouse complex under construction will bring 125 jobs.

The United Technologies plant in Thomson first opened in 1979 as Northern Fibre. It was purchased in 1984 by Sheller-Globe, which in turn was purchased in 1989 by United Technologies, which renovated the plant and added offices in 1992.