BREWER, Maine — Employees of Lemforder Corp. have made their last auto parts in the city, and the handful left at the company’s factory are tearing apart the manufacturing machines so they can be transported to their new homes down South.
According to ZF Lemforder’s website the company has facilities at some 15 locations in the U.S. including Duncan, S.C.; Chicago, Ill.; Gainesville, Ga.; Northville, Mich.; and Lancaster, S.C.
At its peak, about 400 workers were employed at the Brewer plant.
Lemforder officials announced in January 2009 that the plant, which was a worldwide supplier of driveline and chassis components for both domestic and foreign vehicles, would close in mid-2010.
The company is looking for a buyer for its 120,000-square-foot main building. Its city-built 55,000-square-foot warehouse was sold Monday, said D’arcy Main-Boyington, Brewer’s economic development director.
Bangor resident Bill Varney, who started the Varney Agency insurance company in 1982 and who is still a co-owner and chairman of the board, purchased the property.
“He’ll be leasing it out to various entities,” Main-Boyington said. “It could be used for manufacturing, shipping, research and development. It could be many things. It’s beautiful space.”
The warehouse building includes two science labs and loading dock space and is located in the East-West Industrial Park. The main Lemforder building sits a block or so away and is listed for $3.5 million.
“The owners are very motivated and encourage interested parties to make an offer,” Main-Boyington said. “Right now it’s at a bargain price. They are just trying to get out from underneath it.”
The Brewer Lemforder factory opened in 1980 and was the first North American plant built by the parent company, German-based ZF Lemforder, a worldwide auto parts supplier.
When it was announced that the factory would close, Lemforder was the city’s second-largest taxpayer with a property value of just under $26 million, and employed 127 of the 400 original employees.
Remaining Lemforder employees, still at the plant at the end of 2009, ramped up their production of tie rod ends and ball joints for Ford, General Motors, Chrysler and Mercedes Benz so there would be plenty on hand during the machinery changeover, the economic development director said.
“They’re done manufacturing, but there are some Lemforder people there” dismantling machinery, Main-Boyington said.
The main building is scheduled to be empty in December, she said. The shift in production of auto parts to Mexico resulted in the Brewer layoffs and subsequent closing, according to a U.S. Labor Department announcement that displaced employees qualified for federal Trade Adjustment Assistance funds to help them find new jobs or get training for a different career.
The warehouse sale is complicated by the fact that Brewer built the facility years ago, using state grant funds and a low-interest loan, to help keep Lemforder in town.
“We built that so Lemforder could expand,” Main-Boyington said. “The city is the owner. Lemforder leases the building from BEDC,” which holds the note.
The Brewer Economic Development Corp. is a nonprofit, independent development corporation established in 1968 to own and develop the East-West Industrial Park. The city used BEDC to qualify for state Community Development Block Grant funds used to build it, Main-Boyington said.
Lemforder has always had an option to purchase the warehouse and “it was cheaper to purchase the building than continuing to pay the lease,” she said.
So essentially, Lemforder officials are buying the land from the city, under BEDC, and selling it to Varney, all in one document.
“The city will get its final payment on the building … [and] nobody is making a profit,” Main-Boyington said.
The sale of the warehouse, in these hard economic times, is great news, she said.