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Second major Middlebury business to close doors

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January 29, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS AND JOHN McCRIGHT

MIDDLEBURY — For the second time this month local economic development officials and a contingent of more than 100 manufacturing workers are rallying to pull things together after the announcement of a Middlebury plant closure.

Standard Register Co. on Friday said it will close its Route 7 South plant in March, putting 112 people out of work. The Middlebury facility, which prints customized checks and forms, primarily for businesses, hospitals and government agencies, “will continue to perform limited production through March,” a corporate press release said.

The announcement from the Dayton, Ohio, corporate headquarters of Standard Register provided a second dose of bad news for the Addison County economy this month. Bristle-maker Specialty Filaments closed its doors on Jan. 5, sending 175 people in search of new jobs, though an Illinois-based company is making a strong push to acquire and reopen that operation (see related story, this page).

Company officials held a meeting with first- and third-shift employees to break the news of the plant closing on Friday morning. Officials told employees to go home for the weekend and let the news sink in and to come back on Monday, when they will each get a packet of information. Standard Register opened its Middlebury plant in 1965.

“It was a difficult day for our entire leadership team and the plant,” said plant Manager Dave Coughlin, who has worked at Standard Register for the past two years. “Everyone was in shock; I was.”

A contingent of Middlebury police officers were at the meeting in case there was any trouble, but there wasn’t any. Employees were shell-shocked; they got their things and left, according to people at the meeting.

Coughlin said the closure was a corporate decision. Plans call for the company to move its Middlebury equipment to its plants in Murfreesboro, Tenn., York, Penn., and Fayetteville, Ark. Standard Register operates 34 printing facilities and 22 warehouses in the U.S., as well as one document services facility in Mexico.

Officials at headquarters said moving the equipment would “move production closer to customer locations.”

Those being laid off at the Middlebury plant will receive severance benefits and employment assistance, according to Coughlin.

“I had no idea it was coming at all,” said one longtime employee, who asked that his name not be printed. The employee was relieved to at least have a little time before he has to look for a new job.

“We’re not completely out of work yet, but we will be out of work within 60 days,” he said.

Employees said there were some jobs to finish up and some maintenance and equipment to pack up, but some wondered if there was 60 days worth of work to do. One employee was told that the company by law has to give employees 60 days notice.

Addison County Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Jamie Stewart said the closure of Standard Register was unanticipated but not entirely surprising.

“The printing industry has been changing, with the Internet and the move to a ‘paperless society,’” he noted. “But with what they were doing there as a specialty product it seemed it would be more secure.”

Stewart recalled that about four years ago Standard Register closed eight plants around the county but spared the Middlebury operation because it filled a unique niche.

On Friday Stewart was in contact with officials at the Vermont Department of Labor to figure out what could be done to help the soon to be displaced Standard Register employees.

Stewart expects he and state officials will be able to organize a job fair similar to the one held on Jan. 18 for people who had lost their jobs when Specialty Filaments closed. More than 30 employers — many from beyond Addison County — attended the fair for the 175 displaced Specialty Filaments workers and other job seekers. Stewart said he hoped he could get most or all of those same employers to come to a second job fair, and he noted that with the possible restarting of work at Specialty Filaments those employers may have more openings than might have been anticipated.

Many of the affected workers will be given the opportunity to apply for positions at other Standard Register facilities throughout the country, with relocation assistance, Coughlin said.

Sheila Huestis of Bridport has worked at Standard Register for 40 years. She doesn’t see how she will be able to find a job that pays what she earned there.

“The company has given me a good wage for a good job,” she said. “I will never replace my wage, and neither will a lot of other people.”

Still, she considers herself lucky because her children are grown and her house is paid off — two important accomplishments that many of her colleagues couldn’t claim.

Company officials said they are interested in selling the 115,698-square-foot Middlebury plant. The facility employed more than 160 workers just five years ago.

Given the nature of Standard Register’s business, Stewart said it might be more difficult to find a buyer who would simply restart operations, as is an outcome that is being worked on at Specialty Filaments.

“We anticipate we’ll have to backfill with a new business,” he said.

But, Stewart said the Standard Register building on Route 7 South could be attractive to a variety of manufacturers.

“It’s a great facility,” Stewart said. “It’s basically a big, square box that could be adapted to many different uses.”

Stewart said he would be going back to a handful of companies that had expressed some interest in the Specialty Filaments facility to see if they had an interest in the soon-to-be vacant Standard Register facility.

The impact of loosing 112 jobs will obviously be great in a town the size of Middlebury.

“This will affect a lot more than Standard Register employees, it will affect all the businesses where Standard Register employees spend their money,” said Huestis.

Over the weekend she had time to reflect on what her four decades at the Route 7 plant has meant.

“I started working there part-time in high school,” Huestis said. “That’s what my life has been — getting up in the morning and going to work at Standard Register. It’s going to be a huge change for me.”

Cyrus Levesque contributed to this story.

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