Springfield, Vt., no stranger to factory shutdowns, hopeful laid-off workers can find work in hot market

Published: 6/24/2022 10:50:26 PM
Modified: 6/24/2022 10:50:06 PM

SPRINGFIELD, Vt. — As the window and door manufacturer JELD-WEN announced it will close its North Springfield plant and lay off over 80 workers, people in town couldn’t help recalling the long decline of manufacturing in the Connecticut River mill town.

“Springfield was the machine tool capital of the world. Maybe that term was self-applied, but we had three large manufacturing facilities,” recalled state Rep. Kristi Morris, D-Springfield, who’s also chair of the town Selectboard.

Springfield was known as “Precision Valley,” based on its robust machine-tool manufacturing industry.

“They’re all gone,” Morris said of the manufacturers. “They all pulled out years ago.”

JELD-WEN, a global manufacturer based in North Carolina, laid off 80 employees on Wednesday and plans to lay off 10 more as it consolidates its Vermont operations at its Ludlow, Vt., facility, according to Caryn Klebba, the company’s head of global public relations. JELD-WEN has more than 21,000 employees in more than 20 countries.

“While these decisions are not easy,” Klebba said of the Springfield layoffs, “we did so only after careful consideration and with the understanding that our actions today are necessary to position JELD-WEN for future growth.”

Laid-off workers are getting 60 days of regular salary and benefits, along with severance payments based on their length of service, according to Klebba.

The state Department of Labor has “begun the process of coordinating Rapid Response services, which will be provided to any and all individuals impacted through this layoff,” said Kyle Thweatt, a labor department spokesperson.

Springfield rose to prosperity on the success of its precision machine tool industry, with manufacturers such as Jones & Lamson, Bryant Grinder and Fellows Gear Shaper employing a couple of thousand workers.

According to Morris, manufacturing jobs began to dwindle most noticeably in the 1970s and 1980s, with gradual layoffs chipping away at the workforce. In 2002, Goldman Industrials Group, a Boston firm that had purchased all three manufacturers, filed for bankruptcy, marking the end of an era.

Even though people saw that closure coming, Morris said, it didn’t make the change any easier.

“That’s still providing some heartburn and memories to our community,” he said.

With the downturn of manufacturing, some in Springfield have begun to reimagine an economic future for the town, not as the “Precision Valley” of the past, but something more akin to Silicon Valley.

The Black River Innovation Campus, led by longtime Springfield resident Trevor Barlow, hopes to leverage the town’s high-speed broadband to create a “regional tech ecosystem.” The Innovation Campus recently received almost $5 million of state and federal funding to support its Park Street School — a multi-use building that houses workspaces and administrative offices.

Yet Springfield need not perform a complete economic turnaround. Cindy Robillard, business services manager at the Department of Labor, said she has already heard from nearby manufacturing companies hoping to hire former JELD-WEN employees.

“The outreach that we received from a dozen or so local employers shows that there’s a demand for the skills of these individuals in other companies right in the local area,” she said.

JELD-WEN has supplied contact information for the laid-off employees to the Department of Labor, and the state agency plans to hold a “rapid response information session” in the first week of July, Robillard said.

The department also tentatively plans to hold a “job matching event” the following week, at which former JELD-WEN employees can meet hiring employers, she added.

On Precision Drive, the North Springfield street leading to the JELD-WEN plant, “now hiring” signs line the road. A similar banner flies from the side of Ivek Corp., a precision manufacturer down the road from JELD-WEN.

Because many companies are looking to hire, Robillard was hopeful about job prospects for the 80 laid-off people.

“The labor market is in a position to be able to absorb these workers very quickly,” she said.

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