B y Derek Liebig
Seventy-eight local residents will be out a job this fall after Skyline Corporation, a producer of manufactured homes and recreational vehicles, announced they will close its Fair Haven facility.
The impending closure was confirmed last Friday by Mike Steed, Skyline’s Vice President of Human Resources.
“It is not a rumor, it (the facility’s closure) has been confirmed,” Steed said.
He declined to discuss any specifics referring all questions to Andrea Hussey with Vermont Department of Labor and Jeff Sheldon, chairman of the Fair Haven Select Board, each of whom received correspondence from Skyline confirming the plants closure last week.
Division Manager Michael Scheid was out of town and unavailable for comment.
But other than a notice that the plant would be closing and the employees “separated,” neither was given many details.
“I’ve been getting calls all day with people asking questions but they really didn’t tell me anything other than they’re closing,” Sheldon said.
Hussey provided the Whitehall Times with a copy of the Federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN Act) that Skyline filed with the state ofVermont.
In the notice, Steed writes that the plants closure will result in the “permanent elimination of the jobs for all 78 individuals presently employed at the facility.
According to the letter all affected employees have been notified and Skyline anticipates that they will begin terminating employees on Oct. 7 and will continue for a two week period ending Oct. 21.
The company did offer employees a severance package, although the details of that package are unknown.
They were also told that other Skyline facilities may have job openings and current employees would have the chance to apply for those positions if they wished.
The news came as a complete shock to Sheldon who said he received no prior notification that a closure was pending until he received a letter from Skyline early last week.
“We didn’t have any idea,” he said.
Sheldon said the Select Board received a letter informing them of the plant’s closure on Monday or Tuesday of last week.
He said Town Manager Peter Hathaway called Skyline management and asked if there was anything the town could do to assist the company and keep the facility open, but officials “wouldn’t answer any of his questions.”
Hathaway said he contacted Lawrence Miller, Secretary of Commerce for the state ofVermontand was told the company was consolidating its services.
“From my information speaking with Lawrence Miller, the secretary of Commerce, and this comes third hand, is that they are closing because of the economic environment of the housing (sector). Like any company in bad economic times, they are consolidating. It was a corporate decision that was made without talking to Fair Haven.”
Skyline reported a lost of $19,351,000 in 2010 and a loss of $24,994,000 in 2009. From 2009 to 2010 the company lost more than $37,000,000 in total assets.
According to the Manufactured Housing Institute, a shortage of retail financing opportunities and restrictive credit standards has negatively affected manufactured housing sales.
However the shipment of manufactured homes has decreased steadily since 1998 when it reached a peak of 372,843 units shipped industry wide. In 2009 that figure was 49,785, illustrating a drastic decline over the last decade.
Due to these business conditions, Skyline has made a commitment to cut expenses and consolidated operations. In 2010, the company consolidated one of its facilities inHalstead,Kansasinto another facility inArkansas City,Kansas.
The challenging business conditions encountered by the company provide little solace to the 78 people who will lose their jobs or the community of Fair Haven.
“This is not good for the town ofFair Haven. We want to keep all the business we can.”
Sheldon said it would be comparable toWhitehalllosing the plywood company.
Because the Fair Haven plant was the company’s most easterly located facility, local dealers will likely see a rise in shipping costs.
“We’re still carrying them, but it’s a little bit more of an inconvenience, Guy Carruth, an employee with Windy Hollow Homes said. “It may affect shipping. They said they would eat some of the shipping costs for awhile.”
Carruth said the dealer, which has a location on Route 22 in Granville and another in Castleton, didn’t receive any forewarning of the closure and didn’t find out until last week.
“If we knew it was coming, we probably wouldn’t be here,” he said, referring to the Granville facility which recently opened.
Most new units will be shipped fromPennsylvania, the site of the nearest manufacturing facility, Carruth said.
The closure isn’t expected to have much of an impact on the tax base because the company will continue to pay taxes, but the loss of 78 jobs will certainly have its toll.
Both Hathaway and Sheldon said the proposed Beaver Wood Energy Plant takes on further significance now.
“It was imperative before and now it’s even more imperative,” Hathaway said.
According to the Vermont Department of Labor, the unemployment rate inRutlandCountywas 7.1 percent, the third highest total in the state.
“It’s very sad and a big blow to the community. I just wish there was something the town ofFair Havencould do,” Hathaway said.