ShareThis Page
Regional

Southwestern Pa. lost thousands of manufacturing jobs in 2017

Joe Napsha
| Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, 7:23 p.m.
Joanna Bibb secures wires and connects batteries on a pallet of battery stacks at Aquion Energy's production facility in East Huntingdon on Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014.
Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
Joanna Bibb secures wires and connects batteries on a pallet of battery stacks at Aquion Energy's production facility in East Huntingdon on Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014.
Milacron's DME mold base manufacturing plant in Youngwood.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Milacron's DME mold base manufacturing plant in Youngwood.
Colleen Wooten, 51, of North Versailles, bows her head for a prayer that was said during a candlelight vigil at Akers Union Electric Steel facility Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, in Avonmore, Pa.
Michael Swensen | For the Tribune-Review
Colleen Wooten, 51, of North Versailles, bows her head for a prayer that was said during a candlelight vigil at Akers Union Electric Steel facility Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, in Avonmore, Pa.
Members of United Steelworkers and community supporters gather Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, for a candlelight vigil outside the Akers Union Electric Steel facility in Avonmore, Pa., in protest of the company’s plans to lay off dozens of workers and cut health care for hundreds of retirees.
Michael Swensen | For the Tribune-Review
Members of United Steelworkers and community supporters gather Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, for a candlelight vigil outside the Akers Union Electric Steel facility in Avonmore, Pa., in protest of the company’s plans to lay off dozens of workers and cut health care for hundreds of retirees.
Peoria, Ill.-based Caterpillar closed a production plant in Houston, Pa.
Peoria, Ill.-based Caterpillar closed a production plant in Houston, Pa.

Despite President Trump's vows to boost manufacturing, at least five plants have closed this year in southwestern Pennsylvania — including one that packed up production and moved to China and another that is heading to Mexico — resulting in the loss of about 450 jobs, with more expected in 2018.

Aquion Energy, which made saltwater battery systems to store energy, shut down production in East Huntingdon in October and cut 70 jobs in favor of moving to a lower-cost facility in China. Although Aquion will keep its headquarters in Lawrenceville, closing operations at the former Sony Corp. plant sparked controversy because Aquion took nearly $17 million in state aid. It received $8.6 million in grants and another $8 million in loans in return for hiring 70 workers and then promising to add 340 more employees.

Workers at DME mold base plant in Youngwood learned in March that the facility would close in the summer and operations would be moved to its factory in Greenville, Mich., a decision that cost 63 workers their jobs. A small crew remained on the job at the end of the year.

Milacron Holdings of Cincinnati, owner of the Youngwood facility, said the plant had been “key” in DME's mold base manufacturing in North America. But the company said the facility no longer was able to compete effectively as mold manufacturing moved overseas.

In northern Westmoreland County, Akers National Roll/Union Electric Steel in Avonmore temporarily idled its plant in April, cutting about 157 jobs. The company said the Akers National Roll plant had a high cost structure at a time when demand for cast roll had weakened.

The losses at Aquion Energy, Akers National Roll and DME were among the 3,576 manufacturing jobs lost in the seven-county Pittsburgh region through layoffs and plant closings from January through October 2017, the latest month for which data is available, according to the state Center for Workforce Information and Analysis.

Manufacturing employment in Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties dropped from 85,576 in January to 82,600 in October. The December jobs report won't be available until February, at which time the shutdown at Metalor Technologies SA's Murrysville plant should be included.

That facility, which processes precious metals for industrial use, was scheduled to close its doors Friday and move production to San Luis Potosi, Mexico, eliminating almost all of its 100 employees. Some people will work a few months in 2018 to complete various transactions and to remediate the plant, the Swiss-based Metalor said in a statement.

Manufacturers nationwide are optimistic about the next six months, based on the results of a recent survey from the National Association of Manufacturers, said Chad Moutray, chief economist for the Washington, D.C.-based trade organization.

Before the passage of corporate tax cuts as part of the GOP tax overhaul, Moutray wrote that the survey found more than 90 percent of small, medium and large manufacturers were optimistic about growth in 2018.

At least half of the respondents expect new orders, production and shipments to increase in the coming months. Close to half predict more hiring and capital spending, Moutray stated.

But the new year will bring with it the loss of more manufacturing jobs in the region. About 107 workers are expected to lose their jobs beginning Feb. 1 at a mobile maintenance division based at the Seward power plant in Indiana County.

The maintenance workers are employed by an independent unit of GenOn Energy, a subsidiary of NRG Energy, said David Gaier, a spokesman for GenOn, which is based in Princeton, N.J.

That move is part of Gen­On's business transformation plan to focus on core operations of generating power as it continues under the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process, Gaier said.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 459 in Johnstown was told the mobile maintenance division was not part of the company's future, according to the union. Paul Cameron, IBEW Local 459 business manager representing the plant workers, could not be reached for comment.

A former PPG Industries automotive glass plant in East Deer could close next year, ending about 200 jobs.

Pittsburgh Glass Works, part of Vitro of Monterrey, Mexico, said “a combination of difficult realities” might lead to closing its Creighton plant, which could eliminate about 200 jobs. The glassmaker had said the aging facility can't keep up with the auto industry's increasing technological demands and would need significant upgrades.

United Steelworkers, which represents workers at the plant, said talks are underway about the plant's future. Work might be sent to PGW's plant in Evansville, Ind.

Representatives for Pittsburgh Glass Works and Vitro could not be reached for comment.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me