Newell Rubbermaid said Tuesday it plans to close its Wooster distribution center, which will cut the company’s long-standing relationship with the town where it was founded with the exception of a retail store employing 14 people.
Company officials said a lease is ending on the 800,000-square-foot facility, which is part of the original factory and manufacturing complex in Wooster. The company said it no longer made economic sense to truck products from its growing manufacturing and distribution center in Mogadore.
“This was a business decision based on the expiration of our Wooster lease and the necessity to increase efficiency, reduce freight costs, and improve customer service by no longer having to transport products nearly 80 miles round trip between manufacturing in Mogadore and distribution in Wooster,” said spokesman David Doolittle.
The company is entering into negotiations with United Steelworkers Local 302L regarding the closing of the center by the end of 2012.
Doolittle said 110 people work at the center. Until negotiations are complete, it is unknown if any of those positions will transfer to the Mogadore facility, which will expand its distribution operations. At least 25 transportation positions will be eliminated, he said.
Ron Wright, president of the union that represents about 85 people at the Wooster plant, said workers are angry, disgusted and sad at the end of an era.
The work force is made up of many experienced employees who stayed with the company after it closed the main factory in 2003, said Wright. Until some newer people were hired in recent years, most of the employees have 20 to 25 years and more with the company, he said.
“We’re certainly going to look at the aspect of trying to turn this around where we can stop this and keep the jobs in Wooster. But that doesn’t happen very often. Let’s face the facts — we’ll work to get the best settlement for the people and severance packages we possibly can,” Wright said.
Wright, who has 40 years with the company, said he and others always worried that the distribution center would be closed because of the proximity to Mogadore.
“Did we have it in the back of our mind it was coming someday? It’s always in the back of your mind. We’ve worked hard,” said Wright, adding that he could not deny the decision makes business sense.
“It never made sense to us to truck that stuff back and forth. When they would get low on warehousing, they’d ship it to us and we’d ship it back to them,” he said.
But it hurts to see the last connection to Wooster eliminated, he said.
Rubbermaid was founded in 1920 as Wooster Rubber and first made toy balloons. Newell bought Rubbermaid 12 years ago and in 2003 moved the Newell headquarters from Freeport, Ill., to Atlanta. Before the acquisition, Rubbermaid had employed 1,400 at its Wooster headquarters.
The company now employs about 1,400 in Ohio with operations in Mogadore, Fairlawn and Perrysburg, near Toledo. In Northeast Ohio, there are about 1,000 employees, with the majority, or about 825, working at the Mogadore facility, which makes Rubbermaid food storage and home organization products.
“Rubbermaid has a long history of investing in the Wooster community and we thank the people of Wooster for their partnership and support over the years,” said Doolittle.
Jeff Griffin, president of the Wooster Area Chamber of Commerce, said he was saddened by the news of the loss of 110 jobs, especially near the holidays. Griffin also said having Rubbermaid end its operations in Wooster is “ like picking off an old wound. It stirs up some old emotions and there’s people who remain with very hard feelings. They built careers with Rubbermaid ... this kind of bookends the whole process from years ago.”
Griffin said he’s still thankful that the four-story Everything Rubbermaid store will remain in downtown Wooster, but acknowledged that the end of operations at the mammoth Rubbermaid factory and headquarters is significant.
The chamber has been working with the current owners of the property to find new uses, but said it’s a difficult task.
The city has been trying to reinvent itself since Rubbermaid’s headquarters left and the city is focusing on its other businesses and Ohio State’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and the College of Wooster, he said.
Still, the loss of Rubbermaid’s distribution center is emotional, Griffin said.
“It’s symbolic of Wooster. Rubbermaid and Wooster went hand in hand,” he said.
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blinfisher and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty.