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Pittsburgh Glass Works says Creighton plant in East Deer could close next year

Brian C. Rittmeyer
| Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017, 11:15 a.m.
The Pittsburgh Glass Works Creighton plant in East Deer, shown Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. Pittsburgh Glass Works is a  division of Mexico-based glass maker Vitro.
Brian C. Rittmeyer | Tribune-Review
The Pittsburgh Glass Works Creighton plant in East Deer, shown Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. Pittsburgh Glass Works is a division of Mexico-based glass maker Vitro.
A view of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass (PPG) Creighton plant along the Allegheny River in East Deer, before 1960.
Tribune-Review file photo
A view of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass (PPG) Creighton plant along the Allegheny River in East Deer, before 1960.
The Pittsburgh Glass Works plant in East Deer. (Trib Photo)
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
The Pittsburgh Glass Works plant in East Deer. (Trib Photo)

Pittsburgh Glass Works says “a combination of difficult realities” could lead to closing its Creighton plant next year.

In a news release issued Wednesday, the company, a division of Mexico-based Vitro, confirmed that discussions about the future of the plant in East Deer are under way.

Nearly 200 people work there.

The facility is one of the company's eight automotive glass manufacturing plants in the United States.

In the release, PGW said the aging facility can't keep up with the auto industry's increasing technological demands, and would need significant upgrades and improvements.

Under one scenario, the company said the plant would not shut down until next summer, about nine months from now. Work would be sent to PGW's facility in Evansville, Ind.

The plant's workers are represented by the United Steelworkers. In a statement, District 10 Director Bobby McAuliffe said the union will “leave no stone unturned in our fight to preserve jobs for members.”

“We intend to continue working with the local union, the company, members of the community and political leaders in the effort to preserve the livelihoods of our members and their families,” he said.

East Deer Commissioner Tony Taliani said the plant's closure would be a big blow to the small community.

“They're our largest taxpayer, our largest employer, our largest water customer. They own a major portion of the most prime property in our township,” he said. “I'm very concerned about the future use of that property.”

The plant opened in 1883 as Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co.'s original glass plant, Works No. 1.

“I always hoped they would keep that plant open no matter what since it was the birthplace of PPG Industries,” Taliani said. “Pittsburgh Plate Glass was started there. I always hoped from a historical standpoint they would keep that facility operating.”

Employees react

PGW officials met with workers Tuesday and Wednesday.

“You can feel the different morale when you walk in,” said Hunter Pacek of New Kensington, who has been inspecting windshields for five months. “I don't really know how to explain it. It just feels different.”

Beverly Close of Lower Burrell doesn't believe the warning is a bargaining tactic. A process technician, she's worked there for 39 years.

“I don't believe that they're saying it to scare us, to get us into thinking we're going to have to take concessions,” she said. “It's an old factory. How much money would they have to put into the plant to make it viable and competitive?”

Gary Endlich, 60, of Burrell Township, Armstrong County, has worked at the plant since 1978. He said workers are feeling a variety of emotions, including anger over Vitro deciding to shut it down just a few months after buying it.

“I can't believe that the jobs that we do there and the amount of profit they make from us, now they're going to close the plant down,” he said. “I've never been involved in a plant closing.

“Now I know the feeling that after all these years you've dedicated to this company and given them your life, basically they say, ‘Sorry — there's nothing for you anymore.' ”

Endlich said he had hoped in three to five years to retire from the plant, like his father, uncle and aunt had done.

Now there's talk of retraining, which he isn't sure will help him.

“I'm 60 years old,” he said. “Who is going to want to hire me for another five or six years? Who is going to want to hire me for that?”

Other business impacts

The plant's closing could have a ripple effect across the Alle-Kiski Valley.

ALKAB in New Kensington makes custom equipment such as tooling, components and machinery.

“When I started the business in 1990, they were our first customer, and our only customer,” said Bill Kabazie, an ALKAB corporate officer.

But while the plant once counted for more than a quarter of ALKAB's yearly revenues, 27 percent in 1998, it's down to about 3.25 percent today, Kabazie said.

“Over the years, we've weaned ourselves off them and diversified our customer base,” he said. But, “There will be an impact.

“Nobody likes to lose a customer,” he said. “I have a history with them. I used to live in that place, pretty much.”

The PGW plant has been a top 10 account for Alle-Kiski Industries in Allegheny Township since it started 12 years ago, its president, Kevin Hartford, said. Over the past three years, it has made up about 5 percent of its total annual sales.

His business has two employees dedicated to the plant.

“This is a sad day for not only us vendors, but for the entire A-K Valley,” Hartford said. “That plant created wealth for many and supported thousands of families throughout the area.”

Hartford said its loss won't threaten his company's viability.

“Our primary concern is for the employees who have been so loyal and have added so much value to the company,” he said. “Most of the people we work with appear to truly appreciate their jobs and have a sense of pride knowing that they work for one the oldest companies in the area.

“Hopefully for all involved, Vitro will reconsider a complete shutdown and find a place in their business plan for the Creighton plant,” he said. “The skill level at that plant is outstanding.”

‘Serious challenges'

PGW CEO and President Joe Stas said the Creighton plant faces a combination of “serious challenges.”

“We reviewed every realistic business scenario, and all indications lead us to the likelihood of the closure of Creighton in 2018,” Stas said in a statement.

“We must stay ahead of future technologies and customer demands, which require strategic reinvestment in our future,” he said.

Creighton is the oldest facility in the PGW system, with a two-story production layout that creates “significant operational challenges,” the release said.

The plant is no longer capable of making many of the new glass technologies the automobile industry is demanding, such as cameras, electronic sensors, advanced antennas and other technologies needed for new safety, warning and autonomous driving features.

“The 130-year-old facility also would require significant utility upgrades and additional infrastructure improvements to be able to support further production investments,” the company said.

The company said it is facing an ongoing downturn in new car production in the United States, rapidly increasing demand for sophisticated technical windshield content and increased competition.

Overcapacity is a problem, the company said.

“Of the products manufactured at Creighton, PGW has the capacity to produce 2 million more units per year than the current market demands,” the company said.

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, the company reiterated its commitments to Pennsylvania.

In addition to Creighton, PGW operates plants in Tipton and Meadville and a research facility in Pittsburgh, which combined employ 650 people.

Vitro, Mexico's largest glass maker, completed its purchase of PGW earlier this year from Chicago-based LKQ Corp. for $310 million.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4701, brittmeyer@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BCRittmeyer.

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