BELFAST — Humboldt National Graphics, owner of the Journal Press plant, has started the gradual phasing-down of New England printing operations.
Company representative John Gromala said this weekend that the company plans to close its three printing plants Aug. 23. The move will affect 60 workers at the Belfast facility and those at plants in Portland and North Abington, Mass.
Gromala said this weekend that the Belfast work force had been trimmed already and that layoffs would increase as the deadline for closing approached. Last year Journal Press employed about 80 people.
“We are still in the process of meeting our contractual obligations but our work force is steadily dropping all the time,” Gromala said. “Right now, it’s what I would call an orderly phase-out.”
Humboldt National Graphics was founded in the mid-1980s by California native Patrick O’Dell. It major publication is Satellite TV Week. The Belfast plant printed that publication as well as other specialty items such as camping guides and used-automobile lists, drugstore circulars and miscellaneous catalogues. The company’s annual payroll has been estimated at $1 million.
Journal Press is not affiliated with the Republican Journal, one of two weekly newspapers published in Belfast.
O’Dell said in a written statement that “we have brought in experienced management and infused several million dollars in capital to modernize the operation. In spite of all these efforts, the economic conditions in New England have prevented a successful turnaround. The risks are too great to continue.”
Gromala said that despite the shutdown, the company intended to meet the provisions of its existing printing contracts. After that, the plants and their equipment will be sold for the best offer.
Gromala said Humboldt officials and representative of the Maine Department of Labor had met with employees in an attempt to help them find other employment or establish retraining programs.
“We’ve met with all the employees and we’ve met with the state to see what we could do for them. It’s not easy,” Gromala said.
Gromala said that while the company enjoyed some lucrative years when it expanded to New England in 1985 by purchasing the holdings of the bankrupt Rumford National Graphics, the sudden decline of the region’s economy had sapped Humboldt’s strength in the marketplace.
“Within New England in the last two years there have been a substantial number of printing companies that filed for bankruptcy,” Gromala said. “The economy is just not that conducive to business. We just can’t move the product here.”
Gromala said that although Humboldt officials earlier had contemplated filing for bankruptcy, they decided it would be “fairer to our employees and our customers not to do that.” He said the company decided instead to liquidate its holdings in New England.
“At this point we are concentrating on closing it down,” Gromala. “Then we’ll decide about selling the equipment and selling the real property”