The economic slowdown has scored another direct hit on a Lawrence manufacturer.
About 55 employees are losing their jobs as Progress Vanguard closes its Lawrence plant in East Hills Business Park.
The manufacturer of key engine replacement parts for railroad locomotives wasn’t able to survive the downturn in rail traffic that has come as manufacturers have fewer goods to ship.
“I’m afraid we’re part of that domino effect,” said Ken Lass, director of communications for Progress Rail Services. “Companies are manufacturing less goods, which means fewer products are being shipped by rail, which means fewer trains are running, and that means they need less maintenance. And that’s our business.”
The company began laying off employees at the end of last year. A few employees remain to clear the plant of equipment, Lass said. He said all operations at the plant should cease within a few days.
A handful of the 55 employees were able to transfer to a Progress Vanguard plant in Gering, Neb., but most employees are looking for new jobs. The company continues to operate about 130 plants across the country.
Lass said the Lawrence plant was chosen for closure because the company lost a pair of key contracts that had most of the work performed at the Lawrence plant.
“There just wasn’t enough business there to keep it going anymore,” Lass said.
Economic development leaders said the news was disappointing but also said they were keeping the loss in perspective.
“The fact that we haven’t had a mass exodus is a good thing,” said Beth Johnson, vice president of economic development for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. “There are a lot of areas seeing more shutdowns than what we’ve been experiencing.”
But job losses are starting to mount in the Lawrence area. The Progress Vanguard news comes a little more than a month after Amarr Garage Door Group announced it was cutting about 100 jobs at its Lawrence manufacturing plant. A massive downturn in the U.S. housing industry was behind those layoffs. Kansas University, the city’s largest employer, also recently announced that it was eliminating 11 filled jobs, and eliminating 110 vacant positions.
Johnson said efforts are under way to try to attract a new tenant to the 80,000-square-foot Progress Vanguard building, which was the first constructed in the business park. Progress Vanguard has been in the building since the mid-1990s. Prior to that, the building housed a veterinary medicine distributor.
“If you want to make lemonade out of lemons, it gives us a pretty good size building to market, and it has had a history of successfully housing companies,” Johnson said.
Progress Vanguard is a part of the Caterpillar Company, which on Monday announced 20,000 layoffs companywide.