Miami Lakes, Fla.-based injection molder National Molding LLC says difficulties recruiting technical and managerial staff are leading it to close its plant in Ambridge, Pa.
President and CEO Tom Linton said it had become increasingly difficult to recruit staff there needed to make the technical, tight tolerance parts that National supplies for the automotive industry and other end markets, and so the company is shifting 25 of the 43 molding machines to its other facilities.
“The facility is an excellent performer, our challenge had been to staff the factory,” Linton said. “It's one of the biggest challenges we face, attracting and retaining the best people.”
The company first disclosed the move to the Pennsylvania Department of Department of Labor and Industry in a January filing required for mass layoffs under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. It said the closing will affect 43 employees and that layoffs would take place between May 31 and Aug. 30.
“We explored a number of different options, including relocating the facility,” Linton said. “We couldn't come up with a viable option financially.”
He said manufacturing companies face a particularly low unemployment rate, even compared to other industries. National's human resources department recently prepared internal estimates from several sources that calculates that plastics industry unemployment is 1.2 percent and for manufacturing in general, it's 2.8 percent, Linton said.
National Molding's comments echo larger reports on recruiting difficulties for manufacturers. A 2018 report from the Manufacturing Institute, for example, estimated that 2.4 million jobs in manufacturing in the next decade could go unfilled because of a skills gap needed for more technical positions.
National Molding has four other injection molding factories, at its headquarters in Miami Lakes and in Largo, Fla., and internationally in Toronto and Shanghai. Ambridge is the smallest of the five plastics factories.
The company has added substantial new capacity elsewhere in recent years. It bought the Largo facility when it acquired Ven-Tel Plastics Corp. in 2016, and the Toronto facility a year later when it acquired a controlling interest in Canadian molder Dynaplast Ltd. Those acquisitions added more than 100 molding machines.
Linton said it has been more difficult to recruit in Ambridge, about 20 miles outside Pittsburgh, than it was for its other facilities.
Linton said the firm has taken a number of steps recently to boost recruitment, including increasing the company contribution to its 401(k) retirement plans and focusing on employee relations. He said for the last year, for example, all new hires throughout the company get a lunch with Linton or other senior executives in their first month so staff can get better acquainted.
“A lot of it is just treating people well,” he said.
The Ambridge facility had been running at only 60 to 65 percent capacity, and but had managed to pick up some new business recently. “It's not a distressed asset in any way,” Linton said.
The 43 employees in Ambridge have been offered opportunities to relocate to work in the company's other facilities, he said.
Linton said about 65 percent of the company's work is in the automotive market but it has been diversifying. The Ven-Tel acquisition had been aimed at the medical market.
Its automotive business had been “a little tough” the last two years coming off the auto market's 2016 peak, but has been experiencing an uptick lately, including gaining new work tied to the growth in electric vehicles, he said.
National had 290 presses and $108 million in injection molding sales, according to the 2018 Plastics News ranking of injection molding companies.
The company has developed its own proprietary system for quick change modular tools, and said it makes over 1 billion parts a year in high volume applications like buckles and fasteners for the automotive and retail markets.