REEDSPORT — After a decade of operation, American Bridge will close its Reedsport manufacturing plant and lay off its remaining 51 employees in December.
The news is a blow to this Oregon Coast community located in a county with one of the highest unemployment rates in the state.
“We’ve seen this before with the International Paper property (closure in 1999) and other employers on the South Coast, and so it’s another kick to the ribs,” Reedsport Mayor Keith Tymchuk said.
But Tymchuk said the community’s focus has been on “how do we move forward rather than ‘Oh, woe is me.’”
Toward that end, the mayor said, local and regional leaders have pledged to work with American Bridge to market the property and find another employer.
Several employees were laid off Monday, said Susan Buell, president of Umpqua Training and Employment in Roseburg, a private nonprofit group that is mobilizing to help retrain the displaced workers. Other employees will be able to stay on the job until projects that are in the pipeline are completed.
Buell agreed the pending closure is another economic setback for the community.
“They haven’t had great news,” she said.
The Pennsylvania-based company made the disclosure Tuesday in a federally required warn notice that provides employees advance word of mass layoffs. No one answered the phone at the Reedsport plant Tuesday.
Workers assembled and painted the steel structures used to build bridges in buildings located on a 40-acre site on Bolon Island, between Reedsport and Gardiner.
American Bridge Manufacturing, a subsidiary of American Bridge, also operated another plant in Coraopolis, Pa. Tymchuk said company officials told him that plant also will close.
When the company broke ground on the West Coast plant in 2002, it was front page news and an economic shot in the arm for a community that three years earlier had lost 400 jobs with the closure of a paper mill.
The company saw the Reedsport plant as providing it a better edge in competing for smaller projects in the West. American Bridge pledged to deliver 120 jobs by 2005 and received a five-year property tax exemption valued at $750,000.
The following year, the company was hit hard by the abrupt closure of the rail line connecting the Oregon Coast to the Williamette Valley, a crucial link to moving its steel components.
The plant manager at the time told a local newspaper that the company’s workforce dropped from about 100 to 10. The rail line reopened in 2011. But the local plant never recovered.
Its parent company led the joint venture that is building the new $1.7 billion eastern span of the Bay Bridge connecting Oakland and San Francisco. The new span opened to traffic last month after 24 years of planning and construction.
Beyond that project, however, none of the short list of current projects listed on a company brochure from this year are on the West Coast.
Another brochure noted that two-thirds of the manufacturing division’s work comes from outside customers.
The warn notice indicated the layoffs would begin Dec. 9 and last several weeks. The employees are not represented by a union.
Last month, the state Department of Environmental Quality levied fines totaling nearly $11,500 against the Reedsport plant, alleging the improper handling of hazardous waste. The fine is being appealed. A DEQ representative said the agency would carry on with the appeal.