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Middlebury plant employing 175 stops operations

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January 8, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS AND JOHN S. McCRIGHT

MIDDLEBURY — Employees at the Specialty Filaments Inc. manufacturing plant in Middlebury tried to make sense over the weekend of the announcement by company management on Friday that they were suspending operations and looking to sell the business. The move idled about 175 workers in Middlebury; no one is sure if they will ever be able to go back to work for Specialty Filaments.

“We were told on Friday morning that the company was going into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which means they were restructuring, so we were all hoping for a quick sale,” said one Specialty Filaments employee who asked not to have his name publicized. “Then later in the day we heard it was a ‘seizure of operations,’ so I don’t know what is going to happen.”

Specialty Filaments, which makes synthetic monofilaments used in many different kinds of brushes,  operated out of two buildings in Middlebury, a 120,000-square-foot manufacturing plant on Case Street that had about 140 employees and a technical center in the Industrial Park where about 35 people worked. In the summer of 2005, the company closed its manufacturing facility in Burlington and moved about 30 jobs to Middlebury in a consolidation.

Specialty Filaments at one time also had plants in South Carolina, Maryland and Massachusetts before its Boston-based owner, Capital Resource Partners (CRP), closed those plants. At the time of its previous plant closings it blamed competition from foreign manufacturers. The same was true this time. A Specialty Filaments spokesman in Boston said in a published report that pressure from overseas manufacturers had forced it to halt operations.

Spokesman Bill Haynes said in a statement released late Friday afternoon that Specialty Filaments is “in discussion with its senior lender regarding the company’s future.”

Barry Whitney is president of Local 2624, the union that represents 150 of Specialty Filaments’ employees. Whitney said he and other workforce representatives were told by company brass to meet with them on the evening of Thursday, Jan. 4. That meeting was ultimately postponed until the next morning, when workers received the bad news.

“They informed us the company was in financial trouble and that they were going to file for chapter 11 (bankruptcy),” said Whitney. He was told the company was courting three prospective buyers, hoping to complete a deal within seven days.

Barring that, Whitney was told, the company may have to file under Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

But the story changed later on Friday when corporate officials issued the statement indicating that Specialty Filaments was simply “suspending operations.”

As of Sunday, Whitney said workers had yet to be given any definitive information on their unemployment options for health insurance coverage, severance packages or when — and if — the company may again open its doors

Whitney said he is among several employees who have yet to receive their paychecks that were due last Wednesday.

“We just don’t have any answers,” said Whitney, the third generation of his family to work for Specialty Filaments (formerly known as Polymers). “They haven’t done anything except say, ‘We’re locking the doors’ and ‘Goodbye.’”

Members of Local 2624 have already called the office of newly elected U.S. Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., to get help in their quest for more answers from Specialty Filaments management. The union will also contact Gov. James Douglas, a Middlebury resident, Whitney said.

Another company employee who asked not to be named said that a sale had long been rumored but that front-line employees were “in the dark.” He noted that maintenance staff had been instructed to keep the heat on in the Case Street buildings over the weekend, so he had some hope that the plant would be reopened soon.

But, on Sunday, Haynes, the company spokesman, said that management had no plans to open on Monday. He did not know if the hope to finish up a sale in a week or two was realistic.

Officials from the Addison County Economic Development Corp. said at the time of the Burlington plant closure that they had helped Specialty Filaments secure $200,000 from the Addison County Revolving Loan Fund to help finance its corporate consolidation. The company also got a $2 million mortgage guarantee from the Vermont Economic Development Authority in 2004, according to published reports.

When Specialty Filaments in 2002 got a $769,456 in tax credits from the Vermont Economic Progress Council, a company vice president operations told the Addison Independent that management had been seriously considering transferring business to China or other states.

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