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General Electric to close O’Hara plant, upending 380 jobs |
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General Electric to close O’Hara plant, upending 380 jobs

Chris Fleisher
| Tuesday, May 10, 2016 11:05 p.m

Nearly 400 workers in O’Hara will be displaced when General Electric shuts down its plant in the RIDC Industrial Park by the end of the year because of falling demand for its solar-power technology.

The company said Tuesday that 250 workers would lose their jobs in production, assembly, testing and support functions over the coming months. Another 70 employees will be offered positions in Houston, and 60 will stay in Pittsburgh to work on projects for the Navy and Coast Guard, said Tim Waldee, site leader at the RIDC plant.

“We just don’t have really sustainable demand past the third quarter of this year for the products that we make here,” Waldee said.

The plant makes solar inverters used in large renewable energy projects across the country. GE hired 130 people at the plant last year in anticipation of growing demand, said spokesman Paul Floren.

But despite rosy forecasts about the growth of solar power, it has been a difficult year for the industry.

SunEdison Inc., the world’s largest clean-energy company, filed for bankruptcy protection last month. Yingli Green Energy Holding Co., once the top panel maker, warned it may be headed toward default. And SolarCity Corp., the largest U.S. rooftop installer, scaled back its installation forecast for the third time in seven months.

Investors are concerned that the debt-fueled strategies employed by SunEdison, Yingli and SolarCity are endemic to the industry, and have been reluctant to put up money until companies prove they can make and install panels profitably.

Solar hasn’t been the only part of General Electric’s energy portfolio that has been suffering.

The Connecticut-based industrial conglomerate reported declining first-quarter profits as the global oil rout hurt the company’s oil and gas business.

Announcement of the closing of the O’Hara plant came just more than a month after GE opened a facility in Findlay to develop “additive manufacturing technology,” commonly know as 3-D printing.

Waldee could not say whether any displaced workers in O’Hara would have opportunities at the 3-D printing facility.

“From an employment standpoint, that’s just getting started,” Waldee said. “It’s very different work than they do here.”

O’Hara Township Manager Julie Jakubec said rumors about the facility’s closing had been circulating for weeks. She was hopeful that the displaced workers could find other jobs locally, perhaps even within the industrial park.

“The township is always sorry anytime this happens to anyone,” Jakubec said. “We certainly feel for the employees. Hopefully, someone will move into the space and have the ability to hire some of the folks.”

Giant Eagle’s corporate headquarters are in the RIDC park.

Other large employers include health care device maker Zoll and food manufacturer TruFood.

O’Hara Councilman John Denny said he was disappointed to hear that GE was closing the plant but hopeful about attracting new employers there.

“The RIDC park has had turnover, but all to the net growth,” he said. “The township has invested a lot of resources in road investment, upgrades, walking trails, bus service to meet the employers’ needs.”

Chris Fleisher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7854 or Bloomberg contributed to this report.

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