BENNINGTON -- Plasan Carbon Composites expects to close is 139 Shields Drive facility in May and consolidate its operations in Grand Rapids, Mich.
"We're going to be closing the Plasan Carbon Composites plant and consolidating it into our Michigan facility," said James Staargaard, president of Plasan Carbon Composites. "It's not an easy decision, and certainly as it relates to the employees we're doing everything we can to ease the transition for them."
Staargaard said the announcement was made to employees at 11 a.m. Thursday. The plant has 143 full-time employees who manufacture carbon composite car parts, specifically for the Viper SRT and Corvette.
"This does not affect Plasan North America, the armor business," said Staargaard. "In fact, they are moving some assets from Boston to Bennington this week and next week, so Plasan is still committed to the Bennington area, to the armor business."
He said a severance package will be offered to employees but details about what it entails are not being made public.
"We are doing as much as possible to help them and incent them and bridge that gap," Staargaard said.
According to Staargaard, there are few expert engineers in the carbon fiber automotive industry, and splitting those people and resources between two facilities so geographically far apart is not efficient. "We just wanted to consolidate all our assets and resources into a single facility," he said. "It's better business, but again nothing negative about our employees at all.
Plasan Carbon Composites has been making Viper parts at the Shields Drive plant for the past two years, but has been operating there since 2006.
"We're not abandoning the building," Staargaard said. "It'll probably be used in some way, shape, or form by the armor business."
He said the move is strictly about the need to consolidate resources and there is nothing the town could have done to make staying in Bennington feasible. "There's really nothing they could do, because there's nothing they did wrong," Staargaard said. "That's what it comes down to, the employees we have are great, and the fact that the parent and sister companies are staying here is a testament to that. It's not about Bennington, it's not about Vermont."
Peter Odierna, executive director of the Bennington County Industrial Corporation, a non-profit that promotes industry in Bennington County, said the composites industry in this area has a shortage of qualified professionals that some of the former Plasan employees could potentially fill, but it's too early to tell how those companies will react.
"This clearly is a setback, but we've experienced setbacks before and have been able to move forward in a productive way," Odierna said.
He said it also remains to be seen what Plasan will do with the Shields Drive facility, but BCIC is prepared to offer assistance in finding a tenant if need be. He said BCIC is planning a job fair to be held in May.
"Obviously this was a corporate decision made to improve their bottom line," said Town Manager Stuart Hurd. "It had nothing to do with what Bennington or Vermont could or could not offer them."
Local legislators responded to the news Thursday in written statements.
"Our priority will be to focus on finding the employees that have lost their jobs new employment opportunities as soon as possible," said Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington. "We will be coordinating efforts with Commissioner Annie Noonan and the Department of Labor to ensure these workers have access to all available state and federal resources. I am hopeful these efforts will lead to job placement for the workers that have been laid off to help ensure the vitality of Bennington."
"My primary concern in the wake of this news is the economic security of the employees who have been laid off." said House Rep. Bill Botzow, D-Pownal/Woodford "We in the legislature will work diligently with the Department of Labor and the Department of Economic Development to utilize our resources to help support working Vermonters. It is my priority that those without employment will be able to return to the workforce quickly."
Plasan has been working with the Vermont Department of Labor, according to Noonan. "In layoff situations, the affected workers will be eligible for job placement assistance, education and retraining through the Dislocated Worker program, as well as unemployment insurance benefits," she said in the statement.
Noonan said additional funds for workers will be sought through a National Emergency Grant, and the Trade Adjustment Act. "(The department's) Rapid Response Team will be working with Plasan to setup on-site to present this information to the workers, as well as start the paperwork for unemployment and reemployment services."
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.