Goodrich loss costs 200 jobs

July 27, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

The closing of the BF Goodrich plant near Hagerstown Regional Airport marks the end of an era for the local aircraft industry.

Better known locally by the names of its predecessors, Fairchild Industries and Rohr Inc., the aircraft component manufacturing company stopped production Friday, officials said.

A handful of employees remain at the 18238 Showalter Road plant to tie up loose ends.

The manufacturing equipment will be sold at auction Thursday, said Washington County Economic Development Commission Marketing Director Thomas Riford.

"It closed down without a whimper," said Jim Slayman of Hagerstown, who had once hoped to retire from the plant after putting in more than 20 years there.

After trying for the last six months to help save the company, Slayman now expects to look for another line of work since there is little local demand for his skills.


Slayman, 48, expressed frustration at what he saw as a lack of effort on the part of state legislators to save the 200 jobs.

"The local effort by the politicians, I think, was pathetic. I guess that probably has left a little bitter taste in my mouth," he said.

While Slayman couldn't think of anything specific the local delegation to the Maryland General Assembly could have done, he said they should have reached out in the company's time of need.

Del. John Donoghue, D-Washington, said there wasn't anything state legislators could do to prevent Goodrich from closing the plant.

"That was a business decision and it had nothing to do with the state legislature. We all hate to see jobs lost," Donoghue said.

Del. Chris Shank, R-Washington, said he would have been willing to help if Goodrich employees had contacted him.

"It's kind of hard to be a mind reader," he said.

Slayman said BF Goodrich Aerospace/Aerostructures Group waited too long to look for a buyer for the building.

The Richfield, Ohio, company announced last December that it would close the plant, citing the streamlining and restructuring of its operations.

But it wasn't until April that the company hired Colliers-International, a Toronto-based firm, to market the plant, Riford said.

"I wish things had moved more quickly," Riford said.

While some aircraft companies have expressed interest, none are ready to commit, he said.

Often, companies in BF Goodrich's position are wary about competition.

"No company would sell off assets at bargain-basement prices to a competitor," Riford said.

The plant's closing has a spinoff effect on the economy.

For Columbia Gas Co., it means the loss of one of its biggest customers in Maryland, said Leigh McIntosh, Columbia Gas economic development manager.

Columbia Gas has joined the effort to market the building, she said. Information about the company will be posted on the utility's Web site by week's end.

"It's unfortunate, mostly for the people who worked there. But it's also unfortunate for the community as well," said Doug Stone, local president of Amalgamated Local 842-United Auto Workers.

Although Stone didn't work at BF Goodrich, he knew many of the employees, some of whom had worked at the plant since World War II.

Even after war production ended, Fairchild's business boomed. In 1956, Fairchild Aircraft Division employed at least 7,600.

When Fairchild left in 1987, Rohr stepped in to fill the void.

At its peak in 1990-91, the Hagerstown plant employed 620 people and reported $621.8 million in sales.

Local managers and workers staved off a possible closing by Rohr in 1994.

Yet another crisis was averted by Rohr's merger with BF Goodrich in 1997.

But this time, it wasn't to be.

"It's unfortunate they had to close because they were a good company," said Washington County Commissioners President Greg Snook, who worked at the plant until 1989.

Snook was optimistic that another manufacturing industry, although perhaps not aircraft related, will move into the 431,000-square-foot building soon.

Riford said the building has a great location near the airport and Interstate 81, combined with a ready and skilled work force.

"It's just too good a property to sit around," Riford said.

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