Davol Inc. will close its plant in Lawrence by the end of March, eliminating 130 jobs, the company confirmed Thursday.
The shutdown will end more than 40 years of Lawrence history for the east-side plant, which manufactures medical devices. The news shocked longtime employees, who will face unemployment in a difficult job market.
"It did catch people by surprise," said Levi Young, who has worked at the plant for three years and was wondering what he'd do next. "It's hard to say, but there doesn't seem to be too many jobs out there."
The Lawrence plant is one of three being shut down by Davol parent company C.R. Bard as part of a restructuring plan aimed at saving $20 million a year, said Holly Glass, a Bard spokeswoman.
The plant, at 700 E. 22nd St., employs 115 full-time and 15 temporary employees, Glass said. The plant manufactures, sterilizes and distributes several disposable medical devices used in a variety of surgical procedures.
The manufacturing operations from the plant will be outsourced to other firms, she said, and sterilization and distribution work will be transferred to a C.R. Bard facility in Covington, Ga.
One of the reasons for closing the Lawrence plant, Glass said, was that other C.R. Bard plants were better situated to add new operations.
The shutdown will be done in phases, she said. The company will begin eliminating positions in October, then make a second round of job cuts in January. It will complete the shutdown by the end of March. Glass said no decision had been made on how many jobs would be eliminated in each phase.
Glass said the company was offering a severance package to all employees based on their position and the number of years they have worked for the company. She declined to give further details about the package.
Most Davol employees leaving work Thursday afternoon also declined to discuss the company's announcement, but those who did said it had caught them off guard.
"It caught about 90 percent of us by surprise," said a 12-year employee of the plant who declined to give her name. "It was a good place to work."
Company officials declined to give details about the wages the plant paid its workers, but the unidentified worker said she made more than $9 an hour. Several other employees described the pay and benefits as good.
'Going really well'
The plant worker said she and other employees received annual raises just last week, along with a company letter that sounded positive about the plant's future.
"It sounded like things were going really well, and then the next week we're told we're losing our jobs," she said. "It's kind of tough."
Young, though, said there had been some signs that change might hit the facility.
"I think some of us thought something big was going to happen," he said. "There's a lot of underutilized space at the plant so it made me think the plant was either going to expand or shut down."
The unidentified female worker said she was particularly worried about her job prospects and those for other workers who had been at the plant for many years.
"I think for some of us it will be hard as hell to get a job," she said.
Glass said the company would have job fairs for other businesses interested in hiring Davol employees. The company also will provide outplacement services, such as assistance with resume preparation and job interviewing skills.
Cheryl White of the Lawrence Workforce Center said the Lawrence job market could offer some opportunities, but that it remained fairly tight.
"We're not seeing a lot of companies expanding right now, but there are still some companies looking to hire," White said. "People are still successful in finding a job, but it might take them a little longer than it used to. We tell people to be persistent in today's job market."
Seeking new tenant
Lynn Parman, vice president of economic development for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, said she already was working with Davol to find a new tenant for the building.
"With the type of equipment and the specificity of that building, we believe there will be several prospects out there who will want to take a look," Parman said. "And in our conversations with Davol, they spoke very highly of their work force, so that could be a selling point too."
According to records from the Douglas County Appraiser's Office, Davol has about 215,000 square feet of space at the facility, which is just northwest of 23rd Street and Haskell Avenue.
The company began operations in Lawrence in 1960 as Burnett Medical Instrument Co. It has received several tax abatements from the city over the years. The most recent was a 10-year, 50 percent tax abatement for a $5.7 million expansion project in 1991. The tax abatement expired in 2001.
The other two C.R. Bard plants to be closed as part of the reorganization are in Mentor, Ohio, and Clacton, England. Those two plants together employed about 480 workers.
Bard has six other U.S. manufacturing plants and four outside the United States.