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Tim Cash still remembers hearing the devastating news in 2004: The Fleetwood travel trailer plant he had managed for six years in Edgerton, Ohio, would close.
“That was hard for all of us to hear,” he said. “I didn’t understand it, didn’t agree with it.”
According to a report in the Toledo Blade, other workers felt the same. The facility, which had about 260 employees, had won awards for its quality and had been praised for its productivity.
“It went from originally being viewed as a training facility to becoming one of the most profitable plants in the company,” said Cash.
But after the 37-year-old plant closed that year – its work moved to plants in Indiana and Kentucky and its workforce scattered to the winds – an odd thing occurred.
A year later, parent firm Fleetwood Enterprises Inc., Riverside, Calif., took steps to reopen. That happened in late February, with about 150 workers.
The Blade reported that the plant now has up to 170 workers and plans to increase that number to 200 within three years. Much of the previous workforce has returned, along with Cash, who had moved to Texas to manage a Fleetwood plant there.
Initially, the restart was for building emergency-housing trailers for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to distribute to victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
But that contract ended in March. The factory now makes 14 models of trailers for the recreational market.
The closing in 2004 was ordered by previous management, a decision that likely wouldn’t have been made today, said Kathy Munson, investor relations director for Fleetwood.
The day the plant reopened “it was like a family reunion here,” Cash said. “They were a great workforce and it’s great to see many of them come back.”
Wages have not changed significantly. The company sought and received job-tax credits from the state of Ohio, but agreed to invest $755,000 to retool and reopen the plant and promised to hire 200 full-timers within three years. Most jobs pay about $12.25 an hour.
Elaine Moore, executive director of the Williams County Economic Development Corp., said the whole episode is surprising.
“We were glad to see Fleetwood come back and rehire as many people as they did and to expand the facility even further,” she said.