With news that the Haldex Brake plant in Iola will close its doors later this year — cutting 155 jobs from the community’s work force — city officials have taken preliminary steps to determine how to best assist those who are losing jobs and how to find opportunities to bring other work to the community.
Little in terms of specifics were mentioned Monday in a special meeting called by Iola Mayor Bill Maness to look at the effects of the plant’s closure.
But generally speaking, several steps already have been taken, Maness said.
The Iola mayor has been in touch with state and federal lawmakers, while others have reached out to the Kansas Department of Commerce and the Kansas Department of Labor.
The reaction has been nearly unanimous in that those groups will do what they can to assist the city, Maness said.
“We will be calling on all levels of government to identify what incentives can be made available in order to encourage job development in the area,” Maness said, reading from a written statement. “We will work at the local level to identify exactly what we have to offer prospective employers.”
Maness also directed city staff to take another look at their 2011 spending plans, particularly in the area of utilities, and consider the impact of Haldex’s closure before submitting them to the City Commission for final approval in August.
“This is not a knee-jerk reaction to the news from Haldex, but rather a call for careful assessment of our circumstances and a reasonable approach to managing our funds through a difficult time,” Maness said. “This is not a time for panic, but for sound reasoning and thoughtful consideration of our decisions.”
CITY ATTORNEY Chuck Apt said the Department of Commerce already has reached out to Haldex officials to determine what sort of assistance can be provided regarding retraining its work force.
“There are a lot of unknowns right now,” Apt said. “Quite frankly, I’ve been impressed with what the Department of Commerce already is doing with Haldex.”
Maness and Apt spoke to a group of about 30 at Monday’s special meeting.
In response to a question from Rep. Bill Otto, Maness said he was unsure whether any Haldex employees would transfer to Monterrey, Mexico, which is being expanded to absorb equipment from the Iola plant.
Tony Leavitt, plant manager of Herff Jones, meanwhile, said he was unsure how the Iola facility would be affected by news last week that one of that company’s plants in Pennsylvania is closing. Herff Jones executives said work from the Pennsylvania facility will be absorbed by its plants in Iola and Indianapolis.
Leavitt’s comments were in response to a question from Commissioner Bill Shirley.
John Masterson, president of Allen County Community College, told Maness that ACCC has touched base with Kansas Works, a state agency that deals with training for job seekers.
The college was eager to offer whatever facilities or training staff would be necessary, Masterson said.
MANESS noted that he, too, “has skin in the game.” He’s director of logistics and inventory services at Haldex.
He pointed out that the Haldex crew is highly trained and knows how to work as a team.
“For the right employer, it’s a good deal,” he said.
This is not the first time Iola has faced adversity, Maness noted, such as when the Lehigh Cement plant closed in 1970, costing more than 900 jobs, and when Pet Milk and Iola Moldest Plastics closed their doors.
“We know that even as recently as the flood of 2007, Iola is a community that survives,” Maness said. “We take our lumps, we help those affected to recover, and as a community, we survive.”
Maness said the plant’s closing will cost the area approximately $75,000 in property tax revenue. He also noted that Haldex spent about $190,000 in utilities, a portion of which goes to the city as profit.
“Although we must take a measured course of action with reference to the future, we cannot shrink away from our responsibilities as a municipal services provider, or as a community at large,” Maness said. “We must continue to move forward.”