Hawker Powersource to close Ooltewah plant after owner says traditional batteries will be phased out

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One of Ooltewah’s largest manufacturers is closing its doors this month as its owner, EnerSys, moves away from the kind of batteries made at the factory.

Hawker Powersource is closing its battery production plant in the Ooltewah industrial park by August 28, cutting 165 jobs. EnerSys, the Reading, Pa.-based global battery maker that owns Hawker Powersource, gave factory workers 60 days notice of the plant’s shutdown just before the July 4 holiday and is in the process of to phase out production this month.

The company said it would expand production and distribution in Kentucky and other locations to replace the Ooltewah plant. On June 29, EnerSys’ board voted to close the Ooltewah plant to focus on manufacturing and distributing newer, maintenance-free batteries manufactured at other plants.

Management has determined that future demand for traditional motive power flooded cells (manufactured at Ooltewah) will decline as customers transition to maintenance-free lithium and thin plate pure lead (TPPL) product solutions,” said the company said in an announcement from the Ooltewah plant. close. “As a result of the shutdown, EnerSys expects to eliminate nearly $8 million in costs per year. Production of products manufactured in Ooltewah, Tennessee, will be moved to existing EnerSys facilities in North America.

Several displaced workers from the Hawker Powersource plant said they were surprised by news of the plant’s closure and are now scrambling to find new jobs.

Josh Francis, a 42-year-old grid casting associate who has worked at Hawker Powersource since 2010, said the layoff announcement “was very nerve-wracking” and forced him to update his resume and s talk to other employers in the area.

“It was a good company to work for, but there are plenty of other good companies in the area looking for workers,” Francis said Friday while updating his resume at a mobile computer lab set up. implemented by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. outside the factory on Friday to help displaced workers.

Others seek to hire displaced workers

Inside the factory foyer, more than a dozen area employers set up booths Friday at a job fair for Hawker employees on the verge of losing their jobs. Major employers such as McKee Foods, Mueller Co., Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated, Kenco, Monroe Corp. and Metalworking Solutions spoke with Hawker workers about employment opportunities at their factories.

“A lot of companies are hiring right now, but it can be hard to match what we had here and I’m afraid I’ll have to take a pay cut,” said Tony Crutcher, a 40-year-old machine operator who says that he makes about $26 an hour at Hawker. “It’s hard to start all over again at this point in your career.”

Hawker Powersource filed a plant closure WARN notice on June 29 to comply with the 60-day notice required for major layoffs or plant closures by a company. In response, the state’s Rapid Response Team offered through the American Job Center met with Hawker employees July 26-28 to explain the layoff process and how workers can apply for benefits. unemployment, qualify for training for other jobs and apply for other jobs on the state’s job openings listing, which included 394,539 jobs open statewide as of Friday.

“The labor market is certainly more favorable now than in years past when we had these types of plant closures during economic downturns,” said Michele Holt, executive director of the workforce development council. of southeast Tennessee in a phone interview Friday. “The overall market is still pretty healthy and I know a lot of the displaced workers (at Hawker) have already found other jobs. We are on hand today to assist those who may need additional help.”

Factory closures in summer

The closing of Hawker Powersource is the second manufacturing plant in East Tennessee to reduce operations this summer. In June, the Waupaca smelter in Etowah, Tennessee, shut down most of its production, cutting 540 jobs.

Waupaca shut down its pig iron, casting and core production in McMinn County in June, although it continued its pig iron processing operations in Etowah, but with only a fraction of the 683 employees the company had at the 21-year-old factory at the start. of the year.

In Ooltewah, Hawker Powersource purchased the former American Bicycle Group factory on Ooltewah Industrial Drive for $1.2 million in 2015 when the bike maker moved to a larger location on the Amnicola Highway.

Hawker has since upgraded the facility for its production of batteries primarily for battery-powered forklifts. Most of the 130,000 square feet of factory and office space used by Hawker in Ooltewah was originally built in 1988.

Hawker Powersource is the world’s largest brand of industrial lead-acid batteries and operates more than 32 manufacturing plants worldwide serving more than 10,000 customers from a wide range of industries in 100 countries.

In its quarterly earnings report this week, EnerSys estimates the shutdown of Ooltewah’s operations will cost the company a total of $18.5 million, including $7.3 million in non-cash charges related to write-offs. fixed assets recorded during the last fiscal quarter. Additional expenses are expected through the remainder of calendar year 2022 for severance, set-up cleanup, contract releases and legal fees.

Despite cutbacks at Ooltewah and supply chain issues in recent months, EnerSys CEO David Shaffer told industry analysts on Thursday that EnerSys’ overall sales rose more than 10% to 899. million dollars in the last fiscal quarter.

“Overall, market momentum points to strong and steady growth in motive power with the benefits of the trend towards automation and electrification of material handling equipment, as well as the value of our maintenance-free technologies and solutions. advanced wireless charging solutions that should have a lasting impact on our growth in the years to come,” Shaffer said in the company’s first quarter earnings report. “Motive power should also benefit from an improved combination without maintenance and chargers, additional price recovery and structural cost improvements, such as the announcements of the closure of our Ooltewah, Tennessee plant and the opening of our mega-Motive power DC in Richmond, Kentucky.”

Contact Dave Flessner at [email protected] or 423-757-6340. Follow us on Twitter at @Dflessner1

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