The Rodney Hunt-Fontaine Company plant was quiet Thursday morning after employees were informed the previous day that the 175-year old factory would be closing by the end of the year. Employees were given the rest of the week off to review the severances packages offered and to return to work on Monday. Photo by Jared Robinson

Rodney Hunt to close

200 jobs will be lost by year's end

ORANGE — This morning’s weather forecast calls for partly sunny with a high near 70 degrees, in other words, a perfect fall day. However, over 200 people are waking up to a bleak outlook regardless after Rodney Hunt-Fontaine Company executives announced Wednesday afternoon that the plant, which first opened in Orange in 1840, will close its doors by year end. Employees were told to take the rest of the week off to review the severance packages offered. 

Orange Community Development Director Kevin Kennedy was present at the meeting with company employees and commented on the closing following a meeting at the town hall held for another community development topic. He confirmed that most of the company’s 200 employees on site will be laid off by year’s end, including highly skilled laborers, managers and executives alike, as the company attempts to consolidate its northeastern footprint by moving operations to its Pittsburg, Penn., location. 

The company cited low sales volume as the reason for the closing of the Orange plant. 

The announced closing comes after months of rumors of cutbacks, layoffs, employee benefit adjustments and machinery being shipped out of the facility.

When asked how the closure of Rodney Hunt will affect community development, as the town is actively engaged in planning how to apply for community development block grants, Kennedy said that the state does not look at the overall economy of the community when determining how to distribute Housing and Urban Development money; they do, however, look at the income of the individuals applying, and though there is about to be a significantly greater number of residents with drastically reduced incomes, the actual documentation for that will not be available for years. It does, however, show that the town has never been in a greater need for community development funding. 

Town administrator Diana Schindler noted that the closure does mean that the town will need to re-adjust their community development strategy going forward. “We are looking at the closing of a large manufacturer and we are going to have to augment what we are currently doing now that we no longer have that company.”

Kennedy said it means possibly putting more money and focus towards things like job placement services and training. Schindler agreed, stating that it means reshuffling the priorities towards manufacturing training in order to help reemploy people. She noted that there is already a Department of Unemployment Services in town and they were already working on partnering up with them before the Rodney Hunt announcement. 

Selectman Kathy Reinig said she believes the size of the layoff warrants the company being required to provide re-employment services, in reference to the federal WARN Act which states that any company that is laying off more than 100 individuals must provide a 60 calendar-day notice of a plant’s closing in order to allow employees and families ample time to seek other employment and/or adjust to the possibility of unemployment. 

Schindler said she plans to follow up to make sure the company follows all federal requirements. 

When the Rodney Hunt Company was founded in 1840 in Orange they focused on the simple machines such as water wheels and gates used in New England manufacturing mills. By World War II the company had expanded to meet demand for sluice gates and other water-control equipment. 

The company merged with GA Industries, of Mars., Penn., in late 1995, which was subsequently purchased by Zurn Industries, of Pittsburgh, and is a division of the Rexnord Corporation. 

In 2013 Rodney Hunt announced plans to add 60 additional jobs and invest $6 million in machinery and equipment by moving its Fontaine division from Quebec to Orange with the help of a four-year tax break approved by the voters of Orange. However the promise never came to fruition and the town went after the company to make back the money the town lost through the deal. At a special town meeting last month Reinig announced that the town has received $179,000 from the company as a result. 

There was no question-and-answer session allowed at the employee meeting Wednesday and calls for information from both the media and town officials to Rodney Hunt and Rexnord have gone unanswered. 

Athol Daily News

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