The General Electric Co.'s 50-year manufacturing presence in Ravenna may be ending next year. The company notified workers in Ravenna and Warren that the company intends to close the plants by the end of the first quarter of 2014.
The closures were blamed on "dramatic and continuing decline in demand" for the products made at the plants. The announcement does not affect the 452,000-square-foot distribution center located on S.R. 14 north of the plant, which employs some 40 people.
The Ravenna plant, located on 56.42 acres on North Chestnut Street at S.R. 14, employs 164 people. More than two-thirds of those -- 112 people -- would be eligible for retirement or a plant-closing pension option, said Christopher Augustine, a GE spokesman. The remaining 52 employees would be eligible for preferential employment placement at up to 10 GE locations, severance, tuition reimbursement for education and retraining, and continued insurance, medical and dental benefits for affected employees and their covered dependents.
The Warren plant, which makes halogen PAR lamps and specialty incandescent products, employs 198 people.
"This is a difficult announcement to make, due to its potential impact on our people. Unfortunately, the declining volume in our plant makes us unable to continue to operate cost competitively and necessitates our making this proposal," said Larry Krift, plant manager for the Ravenna Lamp Plant.
"If this action moves forward, we will make every reasonable effort to minimize the impact on affected employees and their families using GE's wide-ranging benefits," Krift said.
The Ravenna plant makes high-intensity discharge lamps. A statement from GE said the plant currently operates at less than one-third of its full capacity as customers have shifted to less-costly energy efficient lighting products. GE said the decision on whether to close the Ravenna plant is contingent upon the outcome of a process called "idea generation" in which employees have an opportunity to offer cost-saving alternatives to the plan. A final decision on the plant closing would be made after these talks are completed within 60 days. If the decision is to proceed, operations will be phased out no sooner than one full year from the announcement date.
GE's operations in Ravenna date back to the early 1960s. At its peak, the local plant employed some 400 workers at the 160,000-square-foot manufacturing plant and the distribution center.
Kerry Macomber, community development director for the city of Ravenna, said the city and the Portage County Development Board spoke Thursday with the Ravenna plant's general manager. Macomber said, when he asked, Mayor Joseph Bica was told that the "idea generation" period has in the past resulted in a plant staying open.
Even if the plant closes, Macomber said she is encouraged that the distribution center would remain open. She expressed hope that the company would build on that facility in the future.
"It's a nice facility," she said. "It sits on a rail line. They really could make better use of that facility. Maybe that will happen."
Macomber said the company's income tax receipts have steadily declined since 2009, when workers paid a combined total of $322,000 to the city. That's almost $100,000 more than the $235,000 the plant's employees paid last year, though the number of employees has remained steady.
Brad Ehrhart, president of the Portage County Development Board, also spoke to GE officials Thursday afternoon.
"We'll continue to work closely with the city of Ravenna and do what we can do to recover," he said.
GE made a similar closing announcement about its Monterrey, Mexico lamp plant last week.
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