BENNINGTON -- The Department of Labor intends to help the 143 people who will lose their jobs at Plasan Carbon Composites come May find new employment.
"We are going to be working with Plasan in terms of developing a time frame," said Wendy Morse, Bennington/Rutland/Middlebury regional manager for the Vermont Department of Labor.
Among other things, two job fairs have been scheduled that will cater specifically to laid off Plasan employees. Morse said one is scheduled for May 8 at the Career Development Center in Bennington, and another for April 23 in Rutland at the department's Resource Center.
Plasan Carbon Composites President James Staargaard announced Thursday the plant at 139 Shields Drive will be shutting down in mid to late May and move to Grand Rapids, Mich., where the company's other facility is located. The company makes car parts out of carbon composites, and according to Staargaard is one of the few corporations filling that niche. This makes it hard to split the company's resources between two states, especially when one plant is much further from the primary market in Michigan.
Staargaard said Plasan is committed to aiding the state in finding new jobs for the employees who will be laid off.
Rose Lucenti, workforce development director for the Vermont Department of Labor, said the department plans to hold a presentation for Plasan employees familiarizing them with all the services the department offers. Those include workshops in resume writing, job interviews, and starting a small business. Workers will get one-on-one time with a member of the department's Rapid Response Team who will assist them directly.
Lucenti said the team is funded through the Dislocated Worker Fund, which was created by the federal Workforce Development Act. There is also funding to set employees up with training for new jobs available to them. The department can foot 50 percent of an employee's cost while another company trains them.
She said the department will also take an active role in seeking jobs for the Plasan group, letting them now about opportunities and helping to connect them to the employers offering them.
According to Morse, Bennington remains a "composites cluster" with a number of other composite manufacturers potentially looking to hire new talent now that it's available.
Michael Harrington, Bennington economic and community development director, said last week that the Bennington Economic Development Partners, a group made of Select Board members, school district representatives, business owners, and the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce met to discuss the closure and decided to assist the Department of Labor with its efforts.
At Monday's Select Board meeting there was disagreement over how to view Plasan Carbon Composite's decision.
Board member Greg Van Houten said while it is not good news that jobs are being lost, there is something else to consider.
"I'd like to point out to people that Plasan Carbon Composites bought a division of a Bennington startup company, being Vermont Composites, in 2006, during what's been called the greatest recession since 1929," he said. "They grew to be the largest supplier of carbon fiber in the auto industry in North America. This is no small task. It's not something that anybody can call anything other than a great success story."
Board member John McFadden said he was disappointed that the board was not aware of the impending closure sooner. He said he did not receive an email about it until the Banner broke the news on its Facebook page.
"The fact we didn't know ahead of time means we aren't in touch with our strongest employers," he said. "We have no idea what's going on."
Board Vice Chairwoman Sharyn Brush said there was nothing the board could have done to prevent Plasan's leaving.
"Why?" McFadden asked. "My point is that yes, we lost 143 jobs but there was a potential at one moment in time it could have been 143 jobs here in Bennington, and the Michigan plant was coming to Bennington instead."
Harrington said Peter Odierna, executive director of the Bennington County Industrial Corporation, learned of the pending closure shortly after the Plasan employees themselves, and that communication is fairly good between the economic development groups and the area's employers. He said companies rarely share such information with the public until it's necessary.
Staargaard told the Banner there was nothing the town or state could have done to prevent Plasan from moving. According to Harrington, Staargaard also told Odierna that Plasan was also having difficulty meeting deadlines in getting parts to its major market in Michigan.
"We could have debated different incentives and ways to get them to stay here, their primary reason for wanting to move closer to their primary market was to meet deadlines due to transportation," said Harrington, adding that Plasan, like other manufacturers, makes parts to order and do not keep large inventories.
"They said in a number of different ways that they were not able to regularly meet that demand due to the inconsistency of the roads and the traffic and the transportation system between here and Albany (N.Y.) and then from Albany on to Michigan," he said.
McFadden had been skeptical of the transportation issue. "Just me, personally, I consider it a failure on the Select Board to have a company walk out," he said, adding while it's not the board's job to hold companies here, it does have a role in boosting the economy.
Board member Thomas Jacobs said some things are not within the board's control, but this does present an opportunity to ask other businesses how they are doing and if there's any form of support they need from the town.
Van Houten said since he has been on the board, there have been those talks between town leaders and businesses. "Those conversations have been happening," he said.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.