Monday, September 22, 2003

Franklin stunned by ArvinMeritor's possible closure

By The Associated Press

FRANKLIN, Ind. - The possible closure of an ArvinMeritor automobile parts plant is sending shock waves through this central Indiana city, where the company is the largest employer.

ArvinMeritor, which employs 800 people in Franklin, will decide by Wednesday whether to close the plant, which makes automobile air and emissions products, said company spokeswoman Colleen Hanley.

Losing the 68-year-old Franklin plant would be a tremendous blow to the city, said Tom Thompson, vice president and general manager of Fletcher Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep in Franklin.

"It's going to be devastating to the community and all the businesses in town," he said Saturday.

News of the possible closing emerged Thursday when company representatives met with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America Local 2993 to tell them of the preliminary decision.

The news came as a surprise to local officials because the plant recently had undergone extensive renovations.

A union representative said he thought the company wanted to cut costs.

Hanley said the company wanted to keep its manufacturing plants near automobile companies that buy the parts and systems.

Several weeks ago, company representatives met with the union to say they would eliminate several parts of the plant and only 20 to 50 jobs, said Harry Alfrey, the union's business representative. Alfrey hopes some employees would get transfers to other ArvinMeritor plants.

"We're all basically in the dark," he said. "We're waiting on the phone call at this point."

Many who have worked at the ArvinMeritor plant for decades would be forced to retire or look for other work.

Danny Muse, a night-shift representative with the union who has worked in maintenance for 13 years, plans to move to Kentucky, where he will seek work at the Kingsford Charcoal plant. He said he had been expecting the closing since Meritor bought Arvin in 2000.

Thompson, of the Fletcher auto dealership, expects to lose sales because of the closing, and some ArvinMeritor employees already have traded their vehicles to lower their payments, he said.

"(ArvinMeritor) was the backbone of Franklin," Thompson said. "As long as the back is broken, it will take a little bit of time to heal."

The possible closing points to Johnson County's need for a more diverse job base, said Chris Kinnett, executive director of the Johnson County Development Corp.

"Right now, we're pretty dependent on distribution and automotive," Kinnett said.

Johnson County already had started to look for new industries, but it has not made any advancements, he said.

ArvinMeritor has more than 150 plants, including 58 factories for light vehicle systems.

The company has 32,000 employees worldwide, including about 17,000 involved in light-vehicle systems manufacturing.

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