Southwestern Pa. lost thousands of manufacturing jobs in 2017 |
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Joe Napsha
Joanna Bibb secures wires and connects batteries on a pallet of battery stacks at Aquion Energy's production facility in East Huntingdon on Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014.

Despite President Trump’s vows to boost manufacturing, at least five plants have closed this year in southwestern Pennsylvania — including one that packed up production and moved to China and another that is heading to Mexico — resulting in the loss of about 450 jobs, with more expected in 2018.

Aquion Energy, which made saltwater battery systems to store energy, shut down production in East Huntingdon in October and cut 70 jobs in favor of moving to a lower-cost facility in China. Although Aquion will keep its headquarters in Lawrenceville, closing operations at the former Sony Corp. plant sparked controversy because Aquion took nearly $17 million in state aid. It received $8.6 million in grants and another $8 million in loans in return for hiring 70 workers and then promising to add 340 more employees.

Workers at DME mold base plant in Youngwood learned in March that the facility would close in the summer and operations would be moved to its factory in Greenville, Mich., a decision that cost 63 workers their jobs. A small crew remained on the job at the end of the year.

Milacron Holdings of Cincinnati, owner of the Youngwood facility, said the plant had been “key” in DME’s mold base manufacturing in North America. But the company said the facility no longer was able to compete effectively as mold manufacturing moved overseas.

In northern Westmoreland County, Akers National Roll/Union Electric Steel in Avonmore temporarily idled its plant in April, cutting about 157 jobs. The company said the Akers National Roll plant had a high cost structure at a time when demand for cast roll had weakened.

The losses at Aquion Energy, Akers National Roll and DME were among the 3,576 manufacturing jobs lost in the seven-county Pittsburgh region through layoffs and plant closings from January through October 2017, the latest month for which data is available, according to the state Center for Workforce Information and Analysis.

Manufacturing employment in Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties dropped from 85,576 in January to 82,600 in October. The December jobs report won’t be available until February, at which time the shutdown at Metalor Technologies SA’s Murrysville plant should be included.

That facility, which processes precious metals for industrial use, was scheduled to close its doors Friday and move production to San Luis Potosi, Mexico, eliminating almost all of its 100 employees. Some people will work a few months in 2018 to complete various transactions and to remediate the plant, the Swiss-based Metalor said in a statement.

Manufacturers nationwide are optimistic about the next six months, based on the results of a recent survey from the National Association of Manufacturers, said Chad Moutray, chief economist for the Washington, D.C.-based trade organization.

Before the passage of corporate tax cuts as part of the GOP tax overhaul, Moutray wrote that the survey found more than 90 percent of small, medium and large manufacturers were optimistic about growth in 2018.

At least half of the respondents expect new orders, production and shipments to increase in the coming months. Close to half predict more hiring and capital spending, Moutray stated.

But the new year will bring with it the loss of more manufacturing jobs in the region. About 107 workers are expected to lose their jobs beginning Feb. 1 at a mobile maintenance division based at the Seward power plant in Indiana County.

The maintenance workers are employed by an independent unit of GenOn Energy, a subsidiary of NRG Energy, said David Gaier, a spokesman for GenOn, which is based in Princeton, N.J.

That move is part of Gen­On’s business transformation plan to focus on core operations of generating power as it continues under the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process, Gaier said.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 459 in Johnstown was told the mobile maintenance division was not part of the company’s future, according to the union. Paul Cameron, IBEW Local 459 business manager representing the plant workers, could not be reached for comment.

A former PPG Industries automotive glass plant in East Deer could close next year, ending about 200 jobs.

Pittsburgh Glass Works, part of Vitro of Monterrey, Mexico, said “a combination of difficult realities” might lead to closing its Creighton plant, which could eliminate about 200 jobs. The glassmaker had said the aging facility can’t keep up with the auto industry’s increasing technological demands and would need significant upgrades.

United Steelworkers, which represents workers at the plant, said talks are underway about the plant’s future. Work might be sent to PGW’s plant in Evansville, Ind.

Representatives for Pittsburgh Glass Works and Vitro could not be reached for comment.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or [email protected].

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