Lemforder, city seek replacement company

Posted Aug. 18, 2009, at 8:20 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — Officials at Lemforder Corp., the city’s second-largest taxpayer, are working with city leaders and Brewer Economic Development Corp. to find another company to drive into the spot it will leave vacant in mid-2010 when its doors close.

Along with the 110,000-square-foot main building and 55,000-square-foot warehouse in the East-West Industrial Park, Lemforder officials say they have skilled laborers employed at the auto-parts manufacturing plant that they hope their replacement will tap.

“It’s not just about selling the buildings,” Robbie Beaton, plant manager, said last week while providing a tour of the plant and warehouse. “We still have a trained work force.”

“We’re trying to be creative and work with the city, BEDC and Maine & Company to sell the building and keep the employees” working, he said.

BEDC is a nonprofit, independent development corporation established in 1968 to own and develop the East-West Industrial Park. Nowadays, the group’s members encourage businesses to locate or expand in locations all over Brewer.

Maine & Company is “a private, nonprofit corporation whose staff provides free and confidential services to companies locating to or growing in Maine,” the agency’s Web site states.

The Brewer Lemforder plant opened in 1980 and was the first North American plant built by parent company German-based ZF Lemforder, a worldwide supplier of drive-line and chassis components for Ford, General Motors, Chrysler and Mercedes Benz vehicles. Tie rod ends and ball joints are made at the Brewer plant.

It was announced in January that Lemforder, with a property value just under $26 million, or about 3.26 percent of the city’s tax base, would close in mid-2010 and lay off the last 127 of 400 original employees. Today, the local plant employs 115 people.

“ZF will continue to make the parts — there are four other locations” in North America, Beaton said. “There is no need for four plants, so we’re consolidating to three.”

The sagging national economy is blamed for the plant’s closure.

Beaton led City Councilor Joseph Ferris, members of BEDC, along with D’arcy Main-Boyington, Brewer economic development director, and Tanya Pereira, economic development specialist, through the two Lemforder facilities last week. As he went, he described how the company takes in raw goods, creates other parts and assembles them into the high-quality steering components that are sent out to foreign and domestic automakers.

“This equipment is proprietary and was designed by us,” Beaton said. “We have a plastics department with 17 injection molding machines.”

Some of the machinery has been removed already, and “most of the manufacturing equipment will be out of the main building by the end of the year,” he said. “Eighty to 90 percent is going to another location.”

At the end of the tour, Ferris said, “It was kind of sad walking through that building.”

The warehouse, which has six loading bay doors and a lab, has a selling price of $1.8 million and the plant is listed at $3.4 million.

Main-Boyington said the goal of city leaders is to find “a manufacturer who is able to take advantage of the great labor force. In an ideal situation, we would have someone transfer in. That’s our goal. That’s what we’re working for.

“ZF has definitely shown themselves to be very open and creative,” Main-Boyington said.

Pereira added, “We want everybody to be aware of the resources available,” and listed the city’s economic development office, BEDC and Maine & Company.

While company officials and the city work to find a replacement company to fill the void, the remaining 115 employees are weighing their options, Main-Boyington said. Some of those who are losing their jobs are taking advantage of retraining offered by the federal government, she said.

Beaton, who is a former Lemforder floor worker, said he is extremely proud of his employees.

“They have really stepped up,” he said. “We’re basically ramping up to ramp down,” but that hasn’t changed the quality of their work. “This work force has gone above and beyond. It speaks a lot about the people in this area and who work in this building.”

nricker@bangordailynews.net

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