Plastech closing Kenton facility
By JOHN BRANNON
Messenger Staff Reporter
Plastech Corp. of Dearborn, Mich., has set a target date of June 30 to close its plant at Kenton. However, the date is flexible, according to plant manager James Arnold.
“June 30 is not the magic date. It just means that, by law, we have to give 60 days’ notice,” said Arnold, who has been plant manager since February.
The plant occupies a total of 300,000 square feet and employs a work force of about 200 who earn an average of about $10 per hour. Its primary product is plastic interior trim for the automobile industry. Its customers include Nissan, Chrysler, General Motors and J.C. Inc.
“We have not received approval from any of our customers to move their product elsewhere. The longer it takes for customer approval, the longer it would take to shut the plant down,” Arnold said.
And the plant is not to be dismantled only to be reassembled elsewhere, he added.
“At this point, the plan is to shut it down,” he said.
Those employees who have vacation pay accumulated will be allowed to use them between now and when the plant ultimately closes, Arnold said, but they will not be able to cash in their vacation days.
“The reason the plant here in Kenton is closing is a downturn in the economy,” he said. “We (Plastech Corp.) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in federal court last January. I’ve only been with the company a year and a half. I was as shocked as anybody to hear about it. The previous manager put in his notice and (Dearborn) sent me here in February.”
End of an era
Whenever the doors close for good, the moment will represent an end of an era in Kenton commercial history. The current Plastech plant dates back to the early 1960s and a work force of about 50. Through the years, it has been through several name changes and several owners. The Messenger’s phone calls to Plastech headquarters in Dearborn were not returned; therefore, it is not clear when Plastech acquired the property and manufacturing facility in Kenton.
But this much is clear: Losing the plant — the biggest employer in the city limits — will have an adverse but major impact on the little town that has a population of 1,303.
“We know that. We are very conscious of that,” Arnold said.
For that reason, he and other officials have contacted state officials to come and meet with employees and help them make the transition to new jobs or new opportunities such as education benefits and unemployment benefits.
Kenton Mayor John Maughan said Plastech “hasn’t let me know a thing” about closing the plant. “All I know is what I read in the papers,” he said.
If and when the plant closes, two or three businesses will follow. He said he’s been told by the owner of a local convenience store that if the plant closes, the store will have to close. With its current payroll of $4 million a year, dollars are spent for gas and food and such. If the plant closes, he will have to close his store. There just won’t be enough business generated to support two stores.
“It will be like the Goodyear plant in Union City shutting down,” Maughan said. “A lot of folks who work at Goodyear live here at Kenton. They spend money in Union City and Kenton on gas, food, a bunch of stuff, every day of the week. Well, if Goodyear were to close, it would cripple your town. And Plastech closing here will cripple our town.”
Maughan is a retired Goodyear associate of 28 years’ service with the tire maker.
“(Obion County Mayor) Ben-ny McGuire and (county commissioner) Danny Jowers are working on it, trying to get (the closing) stopped,” Maughan said. “I hope they do.”
Jim Cooper, executive director of Obion County Joint Economic Development Council, said he and McGuire and Jowers met with Arnold and human resources manager Claudette McCullough two weeks ago to see what can be done to save the plant.
As it turns out — nothing. It’s a done deal.
“We developed a list of things that needed to be done on the property,” Cooper said. “The idea was to go to the owners with it, through the local management folks, but the owners came back and said, ‘We’re shutting it down.’”
What effect will losing the plant have on Kenton? Cooper said it will have a big effect on Kenton itself and “certainly hurt the county.”
“Any time you lose those kinds of jobs, it hurts,” he said. “We fight and struggle now to get a plant that will employ 75 or 80. Then you turn around and lose one that employs 200. Well, you’re looking at two years to make up for it. Also, the (national) economy is in a downturn, and that makes things worse.
“In my opinion, though, it’s not so much what it will do to Kenton or Obion County or northwest Tennessee as it is for those 200 people who are making a living for their families. That’s where the hurt comes in.
“That’s why we stepped in. We’d give anything to be able to hold those jobs for those folks.”
Cooper’s sentiments were expressed during a mini-poll conducted by The Messenger in Kenton this morning:
• Randy Reeves: “It will hurt Kenton bad.”
• Don Green: “Any time you take a plant like that out of a community, it hurts. There’ll be a lot of people who won’t be able to find new jobs. A small town like this, a factory closing leaves its mark.”
• Ben Earls: “It takes a lot of business out of this town. If they have to go to Union City for work, they’ll buy gas and other stuff there. All we have left here is Sanderson’s, the Co-op and the cotton gin.”
• Bobby Hobbs: “It’s going to hurt all the businesses in Kenton.
• Jerry Green: “I was living in Kenton the day the plant first opened. I helped build part of it. I had just come out of the Marines. I went to work at the plant in ’68 when it was Vulcan Plastics.”
Rose Pettie, who for five years has been employed at the plant as a plastics molds operator, said management notified all employees on May 1 by letter of the planned closing. “I sure don’t want to have to hunt another job,” she said. “For some of us, it’s the only job we’ve ever had. I know people who have worked there 25 and 30 years.”
Third time around
Mrs. McCullough said she was in a similar job position when she worked at Dura Automotives in Fulton. She had worked there 18 years when it closed in March 2004. “It was bad. Fulton lost 375 jobs. Now I have to go through it again,” she said. “I’ll find another job somewhere. It’s hard these days, though. I want to do what I’ve always done (in this field). I’ve put a lot of years in it and a lot of effort in it, and I like what I do.
“It’s the third time around for me.”
Published in The Messenger 5.6.08