LEOMINSTER, MASS. — Changes in the plastic housewares scene offered a one-two punch that shook Leominster in 2000, but not hard enough to dampen civic leaders' optimism for 2001.
The city will lose about 340 plastics molding jobs as a result of the shutdown of local Tucker Housewares and Tamor Plastics Corp. plants.
"We lost Tucker and Tamor and, believe it or not, the area can absorb such demand," said Leominster Mayor Dean J. Mazzarella.
Zeta Consumer Products filed for bankruptcy in April, shutting down the Tucker plant in Leominster and forcing about 190 workers to find new jobs. Home Products International Inc. is closing the old Tamor plant in the first quarter of this year, eliminating another 150 or so jobs.
"We have a lot of local plastic companies, and there is a huge demand for workers," said Trevor Beauregard, Leominster's economic development coordinator.
The North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce backs that claim, listing more than 150 plastic companies employing more than 8,000 in the region.
Beauregard said many of Tucker's former employees "were absorbed by the market," and the state's Rapid Response team is making plans to help displaced workers from Home Products.
Tucker was founded in 1957 by Ray Morse and Felo Tocci. It went through a variety of owners, including Mobil Oil Co. Zeta bought it in 1996.
Tamor was founded in Leominster in 1955. It was acquired by Selfix Inc. of Chicago in November 1996. Home Products International, a holding company for Selfix, was formed in February 1997.
Now, Leominster has lost two companies that grew up within its borders.
"The business is shifting," said Mazzarella, noting that there are still successful houseware companies in Leominster.
He pointed to Aero Plastics Inc., Holiday Housewares and United Plastic Housewares as three locally owned entities that have gone through expansions in recent years. All three were contacted, but officials were not available for comment.
Home Products based its decision partly on the uncertainty caused by the problems of Bradlees Inc., headquartered in Braintree, Mass. Bradlees filed Dec. 26 for protection under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code and is liquidating its business.
The phaseout of the Home Products Leominster plant will be completed by the end of the first quarter, according to James Tennant, chairman and chief executive officer of Home Products. The company has received several offers for the building, he said.
Mazzarella said manufacturing and warehouse space is at a premium in the city. A 100-acre site is being developed now and should open in the fall.
Tennant said Home Products still would like a plant on the East Coast but not in Massachusetts. He said the company will pick a new site in one to two years.
"What I see is a concentration on quality of customer rather than quantity," he said, noting that regional retailers are being forced out by the "Big Three" of retailing — Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Kmart Corp. and Target Corp.
"You will have the opportunity if you work with the Big Three to push product," Tennant said.
Mazzarella added that even locally, although Bradlees is out of business, "Wal-Mart is coming in with a store three times the size of Bradlees."