Advertisement

Archive for Sunday, June 23, 2002

Work force seeks to find employer

Plant shutdown prompts workers to market themselves as made-to-order labor force

June 23, 2002

Advertisement

— When the 360 employees at FCI Electronics learned their plant would be closing in October, they decided that instead of leaving town to find a new employer, they'd ask an employer to find them.

In solicitations online and in trade magazines, the workers are promoting themselves as a made-to-order work force in a last-ditch effort to stay put in their small central Pennsylvania town.

Employees of FCI Electronics, Rick Conklin, left, Sonnie Gearheart,
center, and Jim Afton sit outside the electronics plant in
Clearfield, Pa. The employees have created a Web page to promote
their skills to potential employers because the plant will close by
Oct. 31.

Employees of FCI Electronics, Rick Conklin, left, Sonnie Gearheart, center, and Jim Afton sit outside the electronics plant in Clearfield, Pa. The employees have created a Web page to promote their skills to potential employers because the plant will close by Oct. 31.

"A lot of us have grown up here, we walk to work and our kids go to school here," said Jim Afton, a 37-year-old senior engineer who has worked for FCI since 1987. "We decided instead of disbanding and going our separate ways, we wanted to do something different."

The idea of sticking together came this spring, when FCI a maker of components for the telecommunications and computer industry announced it would shutter the plant. The company once employed as many as 750.

Initially, workers thought about sending their rmcollectively to potential employers. Then Betsy Savel, an operator on the assembly line, suggested a Web site touting the managers, engineers, tool makers and line workers as a single work force in search of an employer.

The Web site, paid for partly with profits from vending machines at the plant, went up this month, at www.clearfieldworks.com. So far there have been no takers, and workers are preparing for the worst and beginning to look for employment elsewhere.

But they're still hoping someone responds to their online offer or one of the quarter-page advertisements they've been sending to trade magazines.

Sonnie Gearhart, a tool maker who grew up in Clearfield and walks four blocks to the plant every day, believes the work force would be an asset to any interested company.

"We've had a perfect attendance average of eight years ... most employees have never missed a day," said Gearhart, 47.

Clearfield, a town of 6,631 people about 90 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, has struggled in recent years. Its coal mines and brickyards have closed. A textile industry that thrived decades ago has shriveled to almost nothing.

"This community has been smacked a few times smacked by the clay industry, smacked by the coal industry, smacked by the textile industry," said Don McClincy, executive director of the Clearfield Foundation, a nonprofit economic development group.

The telecommunications industry had a banner year in 2000 but then slumped badly, and Paris-based FCI began laying off workers. Word came in April that the remaining workers at the Clearfield plant, in operation since 1966, would be laid off.

They were not offered jobs at FCI's two other Pennsylvania plants because future demand appears weak, company spokeswoman Sheila Himes said.

Experts say the workers face long odds in their quest.

"There are at least some indications companies are picking locations based on the work force, but you've got to have a pretty tight labor market," said Peter Cappelli, director of the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School.

But the fact that the employees are "already familiar with operating in the high-tech milieu" might help, said Adam Bruns, managing editor of Site Selection, a magazine specializing in corporate real estate and economic development issues.

Such companies "want that talented work force to already be there," Bruns said.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.