Fibrelite to close Pawcatuck plant

Stonington — Composite manhole-cover maker Fibrelite Corp. will be vacating its nearly 30,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Pawcatuck and packing up for North Carolina next year, taking more than two dozen jobs out of state.

The Fibrelite plant will be shut down by March 1, 2014.

The move follows Fibrelite’s acquisition in October by OPW, a fluid-handling company based in Cincinnati. The Pawcatuck operation will be consolidated into a 200,000-square-foot Smithfield, N.C., manufacturing facility operated by OPW, said Fibrelite North America President Jim Goodman.

“We will be closing Pawcatuck,” Goodman said.

But Ann Miller, OPW’s vice president for human resources, said in a conference call with Goodman that all of Fibrelite’s estimated 25 to 30 current employees have been offered jobs at the North Carolina plant. The company employed as many as 42 last summer during a seasonal influx of work.

Miller said employees were given 30 days to decide whether to accept a relocation package.

“More than a handful appear to be interested,” Goodman said.

Anyone who decides to remain in the region will receive a transition package based on length of service, he added. Miller said the company is hoping that some personnel who don’t wish to make the move will spend a few months in North Carolina helping to transition the company and train their replacements.

Several employees have been with the British-based company since it opened its American headquarters in Pawcatuck eight years ago, thanks in part to a $300,000 loan from the SouthEastern Connecticut Enterprise Region that Fibrelite has since paid off.

“We’re sorry to hear they’re going,” said C. Stephen MacKenzie, SeCTer’s executive director. “It was a nice operation.”

Deborah Donovan, economic development director of SeCTer, said the timing of Fibrelite’s announced departure was especially disappointing because the agency had been in discussions with a startup high-tech business that had been interested in developing synergies with the composites manufacturer.

Fibrelite did $22.5 million in business worldwide last year, a portion of which came from the Pawcatuck operations, which manufactures round manhole covers and containment systems principally for convenience stores and gasoline stations. The company is the world’s largest manufacturer of composite manhole covers, producing 6,000 a year out of the Pawcatuck plant alone.

David Crouse, president of OPW, said in a statement that bringing Fibrelite to North Carolina would improve efficiencies. OPW is a unit of Dover Corp.

“We will now be able to consolidate shipments of a broader range of OPW and Fibrelite products into single shipments to the benefit of our customers and distributors,” Crouse said.

Goodman, who will remain with OPW as a sales executive working out of his Stonington home, said the move also will help save on other costs, such as health and safety compliance, insurance and utilities.

He added that, in spite of Fibrelite’s planned move out of a leased building on Mechanic Street (formerly home to Harris Press), it will retain at least some of its local connections, because OPW is a major customer for extrusion machines manufactured by Pawcatuck-based Davis-Standard.

“We will remain tied to Pawcatuck,” Goodman said.

l.howard@theday.com

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