By Katie Byard
Beacon Journal business writer
Schwebel Baking Co. plans to shut down its landmark bread-making plant in Cuyahoga Falls that previously was a main facility for the old Lawson Milk Co. and decades ago was a tire factory.
Schwebel says it plans to offer most of the roughly 140 employees there transfers to the company’s more modern Solon bakery, where an additional bread line is to be installed. The closure will come sometime next year.
Workers leaving the Falls plant along state Route 8 on Thursday said they were concerned the Solon facility — because it is highly automated — might not need all of the Falls workers.
Bruce Gluski, human resources director for the Youngstown-headquartered Schwebel Co., said it was too early to get into specifics about how many workers would be offered transfers.
“We are absolutely sincere that it will be most,” Gluski said.
He noted that plans call for the Solon plant — 22 miles from the Falls bakery — to absorb all of the Falls facility’s bread volume. Additionally, he said that the 107-year-old company aims to grow. Schwebel bills itself as one of the largest family-owned bakeries in the country; companywide employment is about 1,400.
“Future growth means more jobs,” Gluski said.
Workers were not surprised to learn that Schwebel was putting its resources into the Solon plant.
“This was a rubber plant, it was all kinds of things,” said a 28-year employee who declined to be identified. “It’s just antiquated. Absolutely too expensive to redo.”
Schwebel said in a news release that the installation of the bread line at Solon — resulting in the closing of the Falls plant — would reduce overhead costs. The new bread line, the company said, is “part of ongoing efforts to modernize facilities, equipment and work practices to remain competitive.”
Interestingly, Schwebel purchased the bread line from the old Hostess Brands Inc., which shut down bakeries last year.
Schwebel, in its news release, said it needs to modernize “in the manner that is most cost effective, which the multistory, outmoded Cuyahoga Falls facility cannot accommodate.”
Schwebel is only using about 35 percent of the Falls plant, Gluski said.
The plant’s closing will not affect the nearby outlet store.
The company also has bakeries in Youngstown and Hebron, Ohio.
Schwebel makes bread sold under brands including Schwebel’s, Millbrook, Country Hearth and Roman Meal. Falls plant employees said they also make bread for Giant Eagle supermarkets.
City officials react
Falls city officials are obviously sad to see the departure of the iconic plant, which Schwebel purchased in 1981 from the owners of Lawson Milk. Lawson acquired the plant from Falls Tire Co. in 1944, according to Beacon Journal archives.
City Development Director Susan Truby said that earlier this year, the city and Schwebel had discussed the possibility of fixing up the facility, using Community Development Block Grants and state of Ohio funding.
Possible plans included moving the facility’s truck area away from the busy intersection of Tallmadge Road and Newberry Street, demolishing parts of the facility, as well as addressing any environmental problems.
Schwebel isn’t among the city’s larger employers; it isn’t among the city’s top 12 companies in terms of employment size, Truby said. Still, the shutdown will have an economic impact on city coffers.
City Finance Director Joe Brodzinski said the facility probably generated about $100,000 in income tax revenues for the city. That’s a small slice of the $18 million the city collects annually in income taxes. Brodzinski said the bakery also has been a longtime customer of city utilities, including electricity.
Teamsters Local 336 represents 100 bakery workers who make roughly $10 to $20 an hour. Teamsters Local 377, meanwhile, represents drivers and transport workers at the 140-employee facility.
Brian Smith, an attorney for Teamsters Local 336, said that union and company representatives will negotiate a “closure agreement” covering issues such as worker seniority and pensions. At the Solon plant, the Local 336 bakery workers, will be members of another union — Bakery and Confectionery Workers Local 19 in Cleveland.
Smith said the union local had asked the company whether there were contract concessions or changes to work rules that could be made to keep the plant open. The company “said [the closing] was due to the structural facility itself,” Smith said.
A representative of Local 377, representing the drivers and transport workers, could not be reached for comment.
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or firstname.lastname@example.org.