Hancock plans for future with plant to close

March 27, 2005|By ANDREW SCHOTZ


When London Fog shut down its Hancock coat factory in 1994, many workers were women earning a second income for their families, Mayor Daniel Murphy said.

This Friday's closing of the Fleetwood Travel Trailers of Maryland Inc. plant, though, might leave many families with no income or health insurance.

"This one - it's going to leave people in a real jam," Murphy said.

According to Greg Eckhart, Fleetwood's regional manager of human resources, about 30 of the 289 Hancock plant employees had taken jobs at the company's Williamsport plant as of Thursday.


Most or all of the rest will have to find something new.

"It's all they've known for 20, 25, 30 years," said Lois Myers, the office manager at Quality Drive-Away on Main Street. "It's just sad."

Quality Drive-Away delivers Fleetwood's recreational vehicles and travel trailers to customers.

Murphy said the impact will be felt in three states, as 40 percent of the Fleetwood plant work force lives in Maryland, about 40 percent lives in Morgan County, W.Va., and about 20 percent is from Fulton County, Pa.

He said he and elected officials in each jurisdiction are collaborating on how to help the laid-off workers. State and county economic officials are involved, too, as well as a local social services organization.

Western Maryland Consortium Executive Director Peter Thomas gave two lengthy presentations to the Fleetwood workers at the beginning of the month.

The consortium, a government agency, uses federal grant money to assist people who lose their jobs during large-scale layoffs and plant closings.

The consortium also helped organize a job fair at the plant Tuesday and Wednesday. Eckhart said 24 companies from Western Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania participated.

A few merchants in town said people are concerned.

Laura Jenkins, the owner of Day Dreams Cafe on Main Street, said it's tough to pinpoint how much of her daily lunch crowd comes from Fleetwood.

But she knows the sentiment; she's heard the mealtime chatter.

"Everybody seems to be looking for a job," so some fear there won't be enough to go around, Jenkins said.

Fleetwood's presence has been good for Petals 'N Bows Flowers & Gifts, owner Jackie Flowers said. Fleetwood places orders there for flowers for birthdays, Secretaries Day and other holidays.

"It's a shame that there's going be that many people without a job," she said.

One is Gary Keefer, the 19-year-old son of Petals 'N Bows Flowers & Gifts employee Kim Keefer.

Gary Keefer, a Berkeley Springs (W.Va.) High School graduate, is optimistic and is moving on, his mother said.

"He wants to go back to school," Kim Keefer said. "Hopefully, to be an auto mechanic."

Keefer and Flowers agreed with Murphy's comparison of London Fog's closure to Fleetwood's.

Each has had female relatives work for London Fog. Flowers said her grandmother worked there and retired when the factory closed and she lost her job.

C&O Bicycle co-owner George Whetzel hoped that some good can come out of the misfortune.

"I hate to see the jobs lost (in) manufacturing, but the town will benefit (if) they can focus on tourism," he said.

Until then, the tally is: more than 300 London Fog union jobs lost in 1994 and almost 300 Fleetwood jobs lost in 2005.

Still left: almost 400 jobs at the Rayloc automotive part plant, according to the Washington County Economic Development Commission's 2004 Business & Industry Directory.

"We see it as pretty devastating news," Murphy said of Fleetwood's local demise, which was announced Feb. 1 - the day after he was elected to his fifth term. "We hope we can find some kind of light industry that will fill that space."

Murphy said a remaining important question is what will happen to the property when Fleetwood leaves.

Fleetwood owns several pieces of property on South Street. According to Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation online records, the main parcel is 14.6 acres and has 102,000 square feet of building space. The land and building space together are assessed at almost $1.7 million.

Eckhart said the building probably would be sold "if a buyer comes along," but he referred questions to the company's Riverside, Calif., headquarters for a more definite answer.

A company spokeswoman could not be reached for comment on Friday.

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