Brewer auto parts plant to close in 2010

Posted Jan. 19, 2009, at 8:17 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 11:07 a.m.

BREWER, Main — A local automotive parts company that employs 127 people in eastern Maine announced that it will be completely phased out by mid-2010 in yet another ripple effect of the sagging national economy.

Representatives from ZF Lemforder Corp., a worldwide supplier of driveline and chassis components with U.S. headquarters in Northville, Mich., were in Brewer on Monday to deliver the bad news.

“We are saddened to learn that the Brewer facility will be phased out,” D’arcy Main-Boyington, Brewer’s economic development director, said in a statement. “The city has worked closely with ZF Lemforder for many years, and they have been a great part of this community. The loss of these jobs and their corporate citizenship will be a blow to the entire region.”

The German company, which operates 119 plants in 25 countries, indicated that other plants in the U.S. also will be consolidated in the coming months.

“The industry is facing unprecedented consolidation and commoditization of the product base,” said Bruce Wrenbeck, vice president for chassis components at Lemforder. “With the significant reduction in vehicle production volumes and a continual increase in competition, we are forced to make very difficult decisions in order to maintain our viability.”

The Brewer plant, located in the city’s East-West Industrial Park, opened in 1980 as Lemfoder’s first North American plant. It produces tie rod ends and ball joints for a number of vehicle makers, foreign and domestic.

A sister facility, Brewer Automotive Components, opened in 1989 in the same industrial park as a joint venture between ZF Lemforder and Somic Ishikawa of Japan, another leading parts manufacturer. Lemforder stressed on Monday that Brewer Automotive Components and its employees will not be affected by the recent deci-sion.

Lemforder in Brewer has experienced several minor setbacks in recent years that have shrunk its work force considerably.

In October 2004, the Brewer plant laid off 18 employees because of a lag between contracts connected to one of its production lines and a weak national economy. At that time, Lemforder employed 315 in Brewer, according to published reports.

In March of last year, the plant had a “temporary volunteer layoff” that affected 10 workers, five fewer than the company initially anticipated. Those layoffs were related to a strike by the United Auto Workers union against American Axle & Manufacturing Inc.

Just last month, the company announced that 45 employees at the Brewer plant would be furloughed — or temporarily laid off — for about a month in a cost-saving measure.

Bryan Johnson, a spokesman for Lemforder, said the December 2008 layoffs were precipitated by General Motors and Mercedes shutdowns. With no cars being manufactured, he said, there is no demand for the steering components made at the Brewer plant.

David Farmer, spokesman for Gov. John Baldacci, said he was unaware of the Lemforder announcement, although he was not in his office Monday in observance on Martin Luther King Day. Baldacci was in Washington, D.C., for the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.

“I can say that the [state] Department of Labor will offer as much assistance as it can to help these workers,” Farmer said.

Main-Boyington said the city of Brewer also will assist in the transition process, which is likely to begin later this year. Johnson said some employees will be offered severance packages.

The Lemforder spokesman also said the company will work with the city to find another tenant for its industrial park.

erussell@bangordailynews.net

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