BENNINGTON — The planned closure of the Energizer plant in Bennington won't be immediate, a company spokeswoman said Monday afternoon.
"The transition will occur in phases and is expected to be complete at the beginning of 2021," Nikki Eaves, of Energizer Holdings Inc., said in an email.
"There are no immediate job impacts and operations will continue through 2020," she said, "but we wanted to share this decision now to provide adequate transition time for our colleagues that live and work in the Bennington community."
She added, "As we're in the early stages of the move, I don't have other information to share at this point. Once we get closer to the planned closure, we will work with federal, state and local agencies to assist our colleagues through the transition."
Earlier this year, Energizer acquired Rayovac, which Eaves said has a specialty battery manufacturing plant in Portage, Wisconsin.
"As part of the integration," she said, "we reviewed our combined manufacturing footprint and determined the total demand for specialty batteries can be produced more efficiently in one facility. The Portage facility is best suited to produce the combined volume across Bennington and Portage."
Energizer announced the pending closure on Thursday by sending messages to local officials and state lawmakers. However, no details were released as to the timetable, according to legislators and economic development officials who said they were standing by to assist workers through the shutdown and the process of seeking jobs elsewhere.
"Decisions to close any facility are difficult," Eaves said, "but we are committed to making our colleagues' transition as smooth as possible."
Eaves also confirmed Monday that the Bennington facility now has about 90 employees.
Caught off guard
Local and state officials said Friday they would assist employees in finding new jobs once they heard more from Energizer. Despite periodic rumors of a closure, the announcement apparently came without advance notice to town, government or agency officials.
"It is positive news to provide time for current employees to transition to other opportunities," Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, said Monday evening of the extended shutdown time.
According to figures provided by the Bennington County Industrial Corp., Energizer's employment levels have declined over the past 20 years to about 200 workers in 2015, and had been between 75 and 90 in 2018.
BCIC Director Bill Colvin said a state Department of Labor rapid response team was being prepared to assist displaced workers in finding employment, but that effort was on hold pending more details from the company.
Union Carbide was the original owner of the facility, which was established in two former textile mills on Gage and Scott streets, beginning in 1942. At times, the battery manufacturing operation employed as many as 700 workers at the plants, which were joined during a major addition project in the 1970s.
Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien