Moll Industries Inc. abruptly is shutting down its factory in Tucson, Ariz. - just two months after Moll opened the plant to house molding work from its closed-down plant in Costa Mesa, Calif.
This time, the custom molding work is moving south of the border, to an existing Moll maquiladora plant in Empalme, Mexico.
Moll officials had said the Tucson plant, at full production this year, would employ 150 and run 60 injection molding presses making medical products and precision custom products for consumer markets.
``We never reached full capacity at that location,'' said Dana Gecker, marketing manager of Dallas-based Moll.
She said 30 people are working at the 85,000-square-foot plant, which houses about 25 injection presses. Moll will move equipment to other plants, and will ``make every effort to place employees at other facilities,'' she said in a July 13 telephone interview.
Moll informed the Tucson employees of the closing July 10. Many recently had relocated to Arizona from California.
Moll cited high costs of manufacturing in California when it announced last year that it would close the Costa Mesa plant and move the operation to the new plant in Tucson. At the time, the company said Tucson would have operating costs 10-20 percent lower than Costa Mesa.
Why the abrupt closing? Gecker said Moll is responding to fast-changing conditions.
``It's really just a shift in our focus, and it's driven by the desires and interests of our customers,'' she said.
``We have seen a significant shift within the last six months from customers and for customer properties as they relate to molding and assembly, both for medical as well as nonmedical, in Mexico,'' Gecker said. ``Mexico has become a higher priority for us, with great focus for our energies and investments.''
Moll picked up the Empalme factory, together with the Costa Mesa plant, in early 2005 when it bought Textron Inc.'s InteSys Technologies unit. The deal also gave Moll a plant in Ireland.
Moll has a second Mexico plant, in Ramos Arizpe. Gecker said Moll closed a plant in Monterrey, Mexico, late last year and relocated that work to Ramos Arizpe.
Moll, which emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in mid-2003, has been expanding into medical and other markets in a move to become more diversified.
The appliance industry - mainly Whirlpool Corp. - generates about 40 percent of the company's sales. Medical now accounts for about 30 percent, officials have said.
Manufacturers of large appliances have shuttered U.S. facilities and moved them to Mexico to cut costs but remain close to the U.S. market. Mexico is attractive to medical companies for the same reasons, Gecker said.
``The medical industry's continued emphasis and interest in cost-reduction has created more medical opportunities in Mexico,'' she said. ``There is medical business there, it does exist and it is growing.
``Mexico is becoming a China alternative,'' she added.
Moll had 2005 sales of $162 million, making it the 48th-largest injection molder in North America, according to Plastics News data.
Gecker said Moll is financially solid.
Moll is owned by Highland Capital Management LP, a Dallas investment company that manages more than $20 billion in assets. Highland was Moll's main lender when it went into bankruptcy.