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Tannery laid off more than 45 employees in '02

February 20, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

WILLIAMSPORT - Long-term strategy, the economy and the loss of three Toyota contracts last year resulted in more than 45 Garden State Tanning employees being laid off last year from the tannery in Williamsport, the company's president said Wednesday.

President and Chief Operating Officer Mark Lecher said he didn't know the total number of workers laid off, but said the tanning facility has approximately 1,000 employees and the corporate headquarters has about 41 employees.

Garden State was listed as having 1,140 employees at the tannery and corporate headquarters in the 2002 Business & Industry Directory for Washington County, Maryland.

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To promote long-term growth for the company, Lecher said the company's focus is on retanning and finishing leather for the automotive industry.

Lecher said Garden State officials made a difficult decision last year to close the Williamsport tannery's beaming and blueing operation in December. Beaming removes hair from the rawhide and blueing adds chemicals to prevent the hide from putrefying.

Some beaming and blueing workers took jobs in other departments, but overall the tannery laid off 40 to 45 workers from that closure, Lecher said.

The tannery accounted for less than 25 percent of the blued hides the company used, Lecher said. With a concentration of beaming and blueing companies in the Midwest, it made more financial sense for Garden State to buy all of its blued hides from partners and focus on its core business, Lecher said.

Garden State also lost contracts to cut leather for three Toyota vehicles - the Land Cruiser, the Sienna minivan and the 4Runner - last August, resulting in layoffs, Lecher said. He did not know how many people were laid off as a result of those contract losses.

Demand also plays a role in the number of employees, although Garden State's automotive clients fared well given the state of the economy, Lecher said. Although overall vehicle sales were flat last year, the vehicles for which Garden State produces leather gained market share, Lecher said. Those brands are Toyota, Honda, Lexus and Acura.

To protect and promote future growth, Lecher said Garden State officials were considering entering the seat cover aspect of the business. That would mean sewing the finished leather to a slip cover that could be clipped to the seat frame.

Lecher couldn't say whether the tannery would take on sewing seat covers. Where that would be done depends on a number of factors, including whether Garden State buys an existing seat cover operation with plants elsewhere.

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