NEAL P. GOSWAMI
BENNINGTON -- Local and state officials say they have been reassured by Energizer executives that the company’s local battery manufacturing plant will not be impacted by a restructuring plan that will cut 10 percent of its global work force and close a manufacturing plant in St. Albans.
The company announced its restructuring plan late Thursday afternoon, revealing the somber news to the 165 employees in St. Albans shortly before announcing it to investors on a conference call. In total, about 1,500 jobs will be cut worldwide, according to the company. The job cuts and plant closings are expected to save the company about $200 million annually.
State Secretary of Commerce Lawrence Miller said both he and Gov. Peter Shumlin spoke with Energizer officials Thursday and pressed for information on the Bennington facility.
"When the governor and I spoke with Energizer late yesterday afternoon I asked specifically about the Bennington plant, and they said no action at the Bennington plant. It’s business as usual there," Miller said. "This was their global report, so I would not expect that to change."
Bennington County Industrial Corp. Executive Director Peter Odierna said he has been assured that the local plant will see no impact from the restructuring plan.
"The Bennington facility is secure here in Bennington for the foreseeable future," Odierna said. "The governor’s office and Sen. (Patrick) Leahy’s office were the ones primarily engaged with the corporate office of Energizer over the last month."
Energizer cited the need to streamline its operations and eliminate redundancies among manufacturing sites, Odierna said. The Bennington plant manufacturers a battery used in hearing aids that is not produced elsewhere, he said.
"The Bennington plant is the only plant in the Energizer portfolio that make those types of batteries," Odierna said.
Miller said Energizer is reeling from a decline in the market for lithium batteries as companies and consumers switch to rechargeable and more environmentally friendly alternatives. As a result, the company completed a review of its cost structure and operating model in late summer.
Miller said he and others within the Shumlin administration sought to work with Energizer to keep the Vermont plants open. However, the company said all decisions would be based on the company’s internal review, not outside factors.
"We knew that Energizer was doing a global asset review. Because of what’s been going on with the lithium battery market, we did have some concerns. We reached out to the company a couple of months ago and they indicated this was going to be a decision made on their asset base. It had nothing to with the Vermont business climate or the U.S. business climate. They made adjustments all around the world," he said.
Energizer’s plans shows the "importance of having a diverse economic base in any given region," Miller said.
Shumlin, in a statement released by his office, said state agencies were mobilizing quickly to help impacted workers.
"The announced closing of the Energizer plant in St. Albans, due to decreasing global consumer demand for lithium batteries, is obviously unwelcome news. My administration is acting quickly to help those impacted by the loss of these jobs to find new opportunities in St. Albans," Shumlin said. "While this news is a blow to Franklin County, I am encouraged by the many signs of economic vitality in the region. My hope -- and our plan -- is that the families affected by this closing will find opportunities in other areas of this growing regional economy. We will work tirelessly to ensure that happens in the coming year, before the plant closes its doors in the next 9 to 12 months."
According to a report to investors, Energizer expects 70 to 80 percent of the savings from global layoffs and closures will improve its profitability, while the remaining savings will be used to reinvest in long-term growth. The company has estimated that one-time charges associated with the restructuring plan will be less than 1.25-times the projected savings.