Meadville Tribune

September 14, 2007

PPG workers express concern about their futures




By Keith Gushard

Meadville Tribune

GREENWOOD TOWNSHIP — Apprehension and worry about the future have occupied Roland Turner’s thoughts since PPG Industries announced Thursday it was selling its automotive glass businesses.

“Everybody’s bummed out and down,” said Turner, 61, of Cochranton, as he left PPG’s flat-glass making plant in Greenwood Township on Friday morning. He is a furnace operator at the plant and has worked there 37 years.

Turner and his 256 co-workers aren’t the only ones worried. The plant has an annual economic impact of $51 million on Crawford County, according to a 1998 economic study done by PPG.

On Thursday, Pittsburgh-based PPG announced it would sell its automotive glass businesses to Platinum Equity of Beverly Hills, Calif., for $500 million. The Crawford County plant is a part of that deal. Glass made here is used by automakers and other PPG plants to fabricate windshields and side and rear windows for vehicles.

PPG was selling its Meadville and eight other glass-making plants because the automotive glass business “did not meet the performance standard for businesses in our portfolio,” said Betsy Mallison Bialosky, a company spokeswoman.

Perry Johnson, local plant manager, declined to talk about the Meadville plant Friday, saying he didn’t know any more than the statement issued by PPG headquarters Thursday.

Officials of Platinum Equity have declined to talk about what may happen to Meadville or the eight other PPG glass manufacturing and fabrication plants it’s buying until the deal is completed.

It’s the uncertainty of the situation that has Turner and his co-workers concerned.

“You don’t know what to expect,” he said. “You don’t know what’s going on.”

“Some are worried,” said Tim Mudger of Espyville, a five-year employee at the plant who does industrial maintenance. “They don’t know that the future holds.”

Mudger is optimistic he could get another job with his former employer if the local plant were to close.

“It’s all up in the air,” said Myron Tipton, 61, of Cochranton, a maintenance employee who has worked at the plant for 39 years.

“PPG hasn’t done anything in the last few years,” he said. “They need to rebuild the (glass-making) lines. Depending on what the new company does, we might be better off.”

The last major upgrade of the plant was in 2002 when PPG had a $23 million project to rebuild a glass-melting furnace and install an energy-efficient, oxygen-fuel furnace.

Aaron Miller of Hartstown, who just got hired at the plant in July, is hopeful the new ownership will invest in the local operation.

“I heard they may put more money into the plant, but that’s not confirmed,” he said.

If the local plant were to close, it would have a ripple effect on the local economy.

David Bigusiak, who owns Route 19 Heavy Truck Repair near the plant, said PPG accounts for about 10 to 15 percent of his business.

His company services dump trucks and other heavy equipment at the plant as well as a variety of tractor-trailers that haul finished glass out of the plant.

“We’ll have to have a ‘wait-and-see attitude,’ ” said Bigusiak. “It would be a big loss for the community.”

A study PPG did on its Meadville-area operation in 1998 found the local plant had an impact of $51 million on the economy at that time.

The bulk of that was in two areas — $22.2 million in wages and benefits and another $19.7 million in transportation and utility costs. Another $7.3 million was spent with 400 suppliers within a 50-mile radius of the plant, according to the study.

The potential loss of millions to the local economy and more than 200 jobs has business officials worried.

“It’s employees — it’s jobs for the area,” said Charlie Anderson, president of the Meadville-Western Crawford County Chamber of Commerce. “The plant has a great reputation overall as a good facility with outstanding employees. We’re hoping for the best.”

Mark Turner, executive director of the Economic Progress Alliance of Crawford County, an economic development agency, said his agency will do what it can to assist the new owners.

“We’ll communicate with them (Platinum Equity) and hope it continues to operate,” he said.

PPG built the Crawford County plant in 1968 and has operated it ever since.



Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at kgushard@meadvilletribune.com.