The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

April 9, 2011

ESAB going south

Ashtabula Township plant heading for warmer climes of South Carolina

ASHTABULA TOWNSHIP —  Ashtabula County lost to South Carolina in a bid to retain ESAB Welding and Cutting Products.

Brian Anderson, executive director of Growth Partnership for Ashtabula County, announced Thursday evening that company officials met with union representatives earlier in the day and told employees they would be phasing out operations in Ashtabula Township starting around October.

ESAB employs about 125 employees at its Middle Road site, once known as Linde Wire. About 100 of those workers are represented by the United Auto Workers, said Daniel Preest, vice president of human resources for ESAB. Preest said the company will be engaging in “effects bargaining” with the union, during which time severance, retraining and other issues will be worked out. He could not comment if the employees will be offered jobs at the new location.

Preest confirmed the plant is being relocated to South Carolina. ESAB has a sister plant in Florence, but has not specified if that community will be the site of the new plant. He said the company will announce the location of the new plant in the next week or so.

The possibility of losing the Ashtabula Township company and its $7 million annual payroll first surfaced four weeks ago, when employees were notified the company was looking at other options.

Preest said the inadequate condition of the Middle Road facility and plans to expand the company’s solid wire division drove the search for a new location.

Growth Partnership spearheaded the effort to keep ESAB here. The partnership worked with the Ashtabula County Port Authority, commissioners, the City of Ashtabula and Ohio Department of Development to put together an incentive package. Last week, company officials came to the county to tour a building to which it could relocate the operations and review the incentives plan the county offered.

“We looked at locations from Andover to Ashtabula,” Ratican said. “They gave a list of specifications and (Anderson) did an extensive search to try to find buildings that would fit that.”

“One (building) came up, but it was not the right one,” Preest said. “Those folks were very good to work and they tried to identify locations for us.”

Anderson said the county was up against difficult competition — the South Carolina community that won ESAB’s presence provided the company with an incentive package that essentially gives the company a $4 million building at no cost. He said it was impossible for the county and state to compete against.

“It’s the competitive nature of economic development, being able to offer them something for free,” Anderson said.

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“It’s unfortunate how the whole thing played out,” Anderson said. “We did everything we could. The deck was stacked against us from a monetary standpoint from the word go.”

“It’s a very sad day for Ashtabula County,” said Sean Ratican, executive director of the Ashtabula County Port Authority. “These people are our neighbors ... the last thing in the world we wanted to do is lose this company and its 130 jobs.”

“It’s tragic for the whole area, especially the men and women and famlies who are losing these jobs,” said Stephen McClure, chairman of the Ashtabula Township Trustees.

He said the trustees would work with Growth Partnership and county commissioners to market the property once it is vacated.

State Rep. Casey Kozlowski, D-Pierpont, said his door will be open to the employees affected by this closing, especially when it comes to navigating state assistance.

“I’m very disappointed to learn that ESAB, which has not only been an important economic staple in our community but has also provided vital jobs for our citizens, will be relocating to South Carolina,” Kozlowski said in a statement. “I worked aggressively with the Ohio Department of Development to establish a plan that would retain the company. But despite our best efforts, the company elected to continue its plans to vacate the Ashtabula site.”

Preest said the company plans to complete its transition from Ashtabula County by the end of the first quarter of 2012. He said no decision has been made as to future plans for the property, which according to the Ashtabula County auditor’s website, is about 67 acres in size and has a valuation of about $2.8 million.

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