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Trailmobile plant to permanently close

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CHARLESTON — Trailmobile Trailer L.L.C. has notified its local employees that the Charleston plant will be permanently closed today. On Nov. 7, Trailmobile placed the plant on a temporary furlough in which all production was halted except work on truck-trailers that had already been ordered. The furlough reduced the plant's work force, which had already been withered by layoffs, from more than 300 employees to 60. The remaining employees at the Charleston plant received closure notices on Friday along with their paychecks. Greg Syer, director of corporate human resources at Trailmobile's plant in Jonesboro, Ark., signed the letter. The Jonesboro Sun newspaper reported on Saturday that the Jonesboro plant will also be permanently closed today. "A significant and unforeseen downturn in our industry has caused us to make some difficult decisions relative to the operation of the Charleston plant. Efforts to secure additional operating funding have failed," Syer stated before announcing the closure. "As this downturn is affecting not only our company but trailer manufacturers, tractor producers and truck body producers, we believe there will be no short-term improvement," Syer stated. "The management of Trailmobile deeply regrets that this step must be taken." The Jonesboro Sun reported that Trailmobile still has facilities in Erlanger, Ky., and Toronto. Westfield resident R.K. Davis, who had worked at the Charleston plant for 30 years, said he had hoped Trailmobile would hold out until it could get state funding to help renovate the 30-year-old plant. Davis said the trailer industry had been suffering for months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks caused trailer orders to drop drastically. "That just demolished the market, there was no recovery," Davis said. Coles Together Director Jeanne Gustafson said city and Trailmobile officials had worked hard to get state funding for rehabilitating the plant. She said their efforts were backed up by the plant having a great work force. "The only thing we could not control was orders," Gustafson said. Davis said he is worried about how Trailmobile's economic problems will affect his retirement funds, pension and vacation days. Davis said he is also concerned about his job prospects at the age of 48. The plant closure will hurt many area businesses that have depended on Trailmobile or its employees for large portions of their sales, he said. "It's going to hit the area a lot harder than some people think," Davis said. Oakland resident Paul Smith said he is still scheduled to work this week at the plant on completing orders. His wife, Laura Smith, was laid off in May 2000. She said there are many other husbands and wives who had worked together at the plant who will be hit hard by the closure. Laura Smith said Trailmobile's handling of the closure has left a "bitter taste in the mouths" of many workers. She said if Trailmobile chooses to reopen the plant in the distant future, it will not be able to find such dedicated, hard-working employees. "These people gave their hearts and souls," Smith said. Kansas resident Terry Watson said he remembers when more than 1,100 employees worked at the plant. Watson said after working there for nearly 30 years, it feels like he has been "left out in the cold" because Trailmobile is not offering the plant's work force a severance package. Sullivan resident Tim Florey said he heard the closure news while he was driving home from the Jonesboro plant, where he had been working since he was laid off a few months ago from the Charleston plant. Florey said he had worked at the Charleston plant for 18 years before he was laid off. Florey said he has a resume ready for his job search and his family had been saving money as a precaution. His brother was laid off from the plant several months ago and found new employment before the job market started turning bad, Florey said. Trailmobile is a good company that is becoming a victim of the downturn in the trailer industry, he said. "There are a lot of people hurting because of it," Florey said.

— Contact Rob Stroud at rstroud@jg-tc.com.

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