Despite town and county efforts to keep Caterpillar Inc. from moving its local production to Pennsylvania, it appears the company will close its Bob White Boulevard plant by mid-2014, resulting in the loss of 240 jobs.
The producer of underground mining equipment recently announced its decision to close the Pulaski plant to the Wall Street Journal. A statement from Caterpillar indicates the decision was made “with a focus on taking actions that will best position the company for long-term success.”
Local officials said they attempted to avert the closing and “will continue to assist Caterpillar in seeking any possible reconsideration” of the decision to shift production to its Houston, Pa. facility.
“Before Caterpillar announced its closing, local government officials had been in contact with the local affiliate’s leadership. We sought to avert the closing of the local facility but learned that due to market changes in the mining industry, there was nothing our local governments could do to change that decision,” states a joint press release from the offices of Pulaski Town Manager Shawn Utt and Pulaski County Administrator Peter Huber.
If the decision cannot be reversed, local officials say they will assist Caterpillar “in finding a subsequent use” of the Pulaski building.
“We want all of the employees, their families, and all those affected by this closure to know you are in our thoughts and prayers. No “explaining” of the causes of such company downsizing can take away from the hurt, defeat, and anxiety created by a corporate decision,” states the press release from local officials.
Caterpillar states that it notified its Pulaski employees Oct. 8 that it was contemplating shifting local production to another plant. “We have since conducted a strategic review of the facility and its operations, and have made the difficult decision to move forward with the closure …,” said the company’s statement.
“We value the contributions our employees have made at the Pulaski facility. However, these actions are needed to make our underground mining business more efficient and competitive, which will be achieved by consolidating production” at the Pennsylvania facility,” the statement continues.
Caterpillar already had announced plans to move production from Tazewell and Beckley, W.Va. plants to the Pennsylvania facility.
The company states that it will offer severance packages and transitional support for employees.
While negotiating with Caterpillar, local officials said they also were in contact with the Workforce Development Rapid Response Team at New River Community College, which is “closely associated with the Virginia Employment Commission.”
The press release from local officials states that the VEC “is in communication with the human resources department at the local Caterpillar plant to gather information that will allow job matching with other local industry needs, career advising, job search preparation, and the creation of educational programs as needed.”
Despite the “painful” news of Caterpillar’s closing, local officials pointed to the fact new jobs will become available in 2014 and years to come through new industries such as Red Sun Farms, Falls Stamping and Welding and Korona. They also pointed out that Phoenix Packaging is seeking machine operators.
“Pulaski County has been affected before by other shifts in the global economy,” such as textiles and furniture, states local officials. As a result, local efforts have been focused on diversifying the local industrial base.
“We are fortunate to have future projects that will build an even stronger advanced manufacturing culture. We are, furthermore, near completion of a new middle‐mile optic fiber backbone that will be available in all our industrial parks, making Pulaski County even more competitive in the knowledge economy of the future,” they state.