June 16, 2019

Employees in Caribou prepare for plant closure

CARIBOU – City officials and employees of First Technology PLC were reeling Wednesday from news that the local plant is closing its doors and shipping production to Standish as well as to the Dominican Republic.

“I did my crying yesterday,” said an employee who declined to give her name Wednesday afternoon.

The woman said she had worked at the plant for more than 20 years and that the closure will leave her out in the cold.

“I can’t move,” she said, indicating that her life is bound to the area. “I’m going to stay with [the company] until the end.”

The 60 workers were told Tuesday afternoon by Jeff Wood, chief operating officer, that operations will end at the plant by Dec. 31. The plant, which opened in 1979, produces electro-mechanical circuit breakers for the automotive and appliance industries.

The British company cited pressure from customers for lower prices. Many of the items produced at the Caribou plant have already been moved to lower-cost facilities in recent years, “and the volumes remaining at the plant no longer justify the overhead cost associated with a stand-alone entity,” the company said in an announcement.

“We’ve got two facilities in Maine and both of them were underutilized. It was that simple,” said Beverly Miner, head of human resources at First Technology Standish.

The company said as many workers at the Caribou plant “as possible” would be offered employment in Standish, which has about 200 employees.

The cost of the consolidation is expected to be about $1.1 million. After completion, the consolidation is expected to save the company approximately $500,000 annually, Miner said.

Some employees, who were headed home after their shift at the Caribou plant, expressed shock, anger and, in some cases, understanding concerning the closure.

The company sent notice to state and local officials in conjunction with Wood’s announcement, Miner said.

City Manager Steve Buck said he was stunned late Tuesday afternoon when he received a hand-delivered letter about the closure.

The letter indicates that some workers may be terminated as early as 60 days from the announcement.

In response to the news, Buck said Wednesday that he has asked Northern Maine Development Commission and the Aroostook Partnership for Progress about what the local organizations could do to help.

The two entities and an official from the Caribou company will meet Friday to discuss options for the facility, including marketing the building and work force as one package to another company so it can remain in business. The organizations also will look at the possibility of federal funding and worker retraining credits under the Trade Adjustment Act.

The city plans to contact by next week several state agencies to help respond to the closure, but it plans to have an orchestrated plan of attack before making contact, Buck said.

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