Back to June 2011 home page

REGIONALREPORT Western

Auto jobs take to the road

Volvo Construction Equipment North America LLC will cut 220 jobs — averaging $82,500 a year — from its Asheville sales and rental operations by September 2012. Volvo also closed its 300-employee Arden manufacturing plant in March 2010. Put the two layoffs together and Volvo is taking a big bite out of western North Carolina’s motor-vehicle economy. Less dramatic, but still important, have been the smaller layoffs in that industry.

Employment Security Commission filings show more than a dozen western North Carolina car, truck and heavy-equipment manufacturers have combined to shed 1,300 workers since 2008, including the Volvo layoffs. “It’s troubling to see those jobs leaving,” says Michael Smith, associate professor of global management and strategy at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee.

Smith and Haywood County Economic Development Commission Director Mark Clasby say manufacturers with 50 employees or less are particularly susceptible to market downturns because they lack the financial cushion of larger companies. “We go looking for the large employers, but we need to be supporting the small, local manufacturers that are here creating value,” Smith says. ”These are the folks that are less likely to relocate.”

Western North Carolina original-equipment manufacturers that have experienced layoffs include some of the largest, such as Troy, Mich.-based Meritor Inc., which makes truck axles and other parts in Fletcher and Forest City; Auburn Hills, Mich.-based BorgWarner Inc., which makes car-cooling systems and heavy-truck turbochargers in Henderson and Buncombe counties; Frankfurt, Germany-based Continental Teves AG, which makes braking systems; and smaller OEMs, such as Morganton’s Viscotec Auto Products Corp., which makes automobile textiles.

Some, such as BorgWarner, Meritor and Continental, are hiring again, fueling speculation that a turnaround is under way, says Dale Carroll, deputy secretary of the N.C. Department of Commerce and former CEO of Advantage- West, the 23-county economic-development agency. “It was a setback to lose Volvo, but all of those companies have two plants apiece in western North Carolina and are doing well and rebounding from the recession.” In October, Reich LLC, a German maker of gears and ball bearings, announced it would build a $28 million Buncombe County plant and hire 56 workers over three years. But there’s a new worry. Smith says rising fuel prices will increase manufacturing costs, which could be passed along to buyers, hurting automotive sales.

 

HILDEBRAN — Furniture maker Geiger Internationalplans to open a plant here this fall that will employ 64. However, 24 workers will move from a plant the Atlanta-based company is closing in Hickory. The average annual wage for the new jobs will be $33,754.

ASHEVILLEMission Hospital asked state regulators for permission to add 51 beds. The addition would cost $8.5 million and would be the largest since the 1970s.

FRANKLIN — Tim Hubbs, 55, plans to retire as CEO of Angel Medical Center. He said he will remain at the 59-bed hospital until it hires a replacement, adding that his decision is not related to a likely partnership with Asheville-based Mission Hospital.

HENDERSONVILLE — Officials at Margaret Pardee Hospital here are in talks with UNC Health Care System about a potential affiliation. Pardee Chairman Bill Lapsley says the 222-bed hospital is not for sale but that UNC could manage it. Some doctors are upset at not being included in discussions.

OLD FORTThe Community Foundation of Western North Carolina and The McDowell Foundation have made a $25,000 grant to promote the town and the headwaters of the Catawba River as tourist destinations. The Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina will use the money to develop
a recreation trails map, among other projects.