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Closing of Danzer plant will end firm's 120-year history - UPDATE

June 07, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

HALFWAY - After 120 years in business, Danzer Industries Inc., a small cargo trailer manufacturing plant in Halfway, has been forced to shut down and lay off about 70 employees because it can't keep up with the competition, an official with its parent company said Tuesday.

"It had financial difficulties. The market in the trailer business is soft," said Marcus Kennedy, manager of manufacturing services for Obsidian Enterprises Inc., Danzer's parent company in Indianapolis.

"We stayed on as long as we could," he said.

President and CEO Kirby McLaughlin said Tuesday that production will likely continue until mid-July. Employees will be laid off as needed until unfinished business is completed, he said.

"People worked here in high school and are still here in their 60s," McLaughlin said glumly, sitting inside the lobby of the 17500 York Road plant. A poster hanging inside was scribbled with signatures from employees. One note read: "Lived 120 years."

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McLaughlin said only a handful of employees will be able to collect retirement.

The business started in 1886 as Danzer Metal Works, a "small tin shop" on Lee Street in Hagerstown, which was opened by Roy Danzer Sr., McLaughlin said. Over the years, the plant's workers have made such products as pollution control equipment, truck bodies and cargo trailers, he said.

In wartime, the plant made helicopter parts and supplied Fort Ritchie and Camp David with equipment. Green painted trash cans that are placed throughout Hagerstown were also made by Danzer employees, he said. The plant has been in Halfway since 1967, he said. Obsidian bought it in 2000, he said.

"It's disheartening. I would have preferred a different outcome, but I recognize corporate responsibilities," McLaughlin said.

Kennedy said production numbers in the past five months have dropped. Before the drop, the plant's workers averaged making 13 to 15 cargo trailers a week, he said.

"They've worked very hard to make a go of it. It's not for lack of effort on their part," Kennedy said. "It just hasn't gained to where it's self-sufficient."

The decision to close the plant, which offered mostly manufacturing, assembly, welding and sheet metal jobs, was made about a week ago, Kennedy said.

In a letter to administrative employees dated June 2, McLaughlin said he was "very distraught" to share news of the closure.

"We endured a fire that destroyed 15,000 square feet of our shop, pressure from increasing material prices, multiple shop floor rearrangements, exiting our core truck body business, cash flow constraints, and trying to double or triple our production volume on trailers," McLaughlin wrote in the letter.

He called the employees' efforts "valiant, gutsy and very conscientious."

Kennedy likened telling workers news of the plant's closure to a job of notifying next of kin.

On Tuesday, James Heckman, 27, a Danzer employee for four years, said he wasn't sure what he was going to do next.

"I already checked into one job, but that position has been filled," he said.

Donald Wagner, 22, said he's checking into a couple of different jobs, but said he liked working at Danzer.

"Hopefully, I don't have to be on unemployment too long," he said.

Heckman said, "I'm looking for something other than manufacturing because of the stability."

Dealers were sent notices of the closure Monday, Kennedy said.




Help for employees



Danzer is giving employees "access to the office to let them do their e-mails. We'll help them do e-mails, letters ... We stand behind them as much as possible," Kennedy said.

McLaughlin said some temporary firms, placement firms and the Local 340, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America union are helping employees.

Ronald Maners, president of the local chapter, said in a written release issued today, "Danzer's closing is a big loss to the Carpenters Local 340. The employees in the shop have been represented by the Union for about 13 years." He said there were 56 members employed at Danzer.

In an effort to help the employees, Maners said a workshop will be held at the Carpenters Local 340 Hall, at 511 E. Franklin St at 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 15. The union plans to offer help with retirement, insurance and obtaining other employment, Maners wrote.

"These are not just people, but part of our Brotherhood. We intend to help them in any way that we can," Maners wrote.

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