Beleaguered machinery maker HPM Corp. closed its factory in Mount Gilead, Ohio, for the week of July 2, leaving at least one local government official wondering if the company would reopen.
After a steady flow of layoffs that cut total employment to about 100 people, HPM said it would shut down for one week because of poor business conditions. William Flickinger, president and chief operating officer of HPM, is trying to put together a deal to buy the company from an investment company that includes Los Angeles businessman Parviz Nazarian.
Company officials have blamed HPM's problems on a severe cash squeeze by the company's lender, Fleet Capital Corp., and on the plunge in demand for plastics machinery. HPM, which once employed more than 500 people, manufactures injection molding machines, sheet extrusion lines and die-casting machines.
A low point came in May, when the employees suddenly found out their health-care benefits were gone after HPM got behind on premium payments. HPM since has paid the money and workers received benefits through the end of June, according to Earl Gilkison, a union official.
Flickinger could not be reached for comment for this story, but a company spokesman confirmed HPM was on a one-week, partial shutdown.
Morrow County Commissioner Olen Jackson isn't convinced.
``We have nothing to indicate that they will reopen,'' Jackson said July 3 by telephone from Mount Gilead. ``We're holding on to a very slim hope that they will be bought.''
Jackson said a group of prospective buyers toured the plant recently.
``We're just trying to sit tight and work through this thing. And we do know there are offers on the table,'' he said. ``As of last week, there was still at least one.''
Mount Gilead Mayor Tom Whiston was more optimistic, saying he thinks the company will reopen after the one-week shutdown.
Meanwhile, the laid-off HPM employees are filing for unemployment benefits. They have been notified they can continue to receive health benefits under the federal COBRA law, according to Gilkison, business agent for Local 1319 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
Gilkison is going with what HPM is saying, that the company will reopen July 9.
``That's what the plan is right now. That's what we were told, that it will be a one-week shutdown,'' he said.
However, the union doesn't know how many people will be called back to work, he said.
HPM, born in 1877 as an apple-press maker, once was Morrow County's largest employer. But now, uncertainty hangs in the air.
On June 29, several churches in Morrow County held a prayer rally for HPM at the HPM credit union near the factory.
``Our frustration is not knowing,'' said Jackson.
On the bright side, Jackson said a few ex-HPM workers have found stable jobs - working at the county jail. ``These guys needed the job, and they needed the benefits,'' he said.