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WILLITS, 7/18/18 — The Willits Microphor plant, which has been a mainstay of the Willits business community for decades and has provided jobs to hundreds of residents of the Little Lake Valley, will be closing in early 2019. The plant currently employs 18 people, but has employed far more in the past, and even at it's diminished size is one of the largest individual employers in northern Mendocino County.
All current employees are being offered a severance package or the choice to relocate with the plant to Greenville, South Carolina. There is no word yet on the size of the severance, or the terms of the relocation.
The lay-offs are slated to begin in January of '19 and be completed by the end of the first quarter of that year.
Though the plant had been in decline for some time the announcement still came as a shock to employees and management in Willits alike.
The corporate owner of Microphor, Wabtec, announced the closure to local staff only yesterday, and sent out a press release today, according to a worker at the plant.
No reason has been give for the closure beyond some corporate boilerplate about how the change will "achieve manufacturing synergies."
However, it is of note that Wabtec will soon merge with GE Transportation, a subsidiary of General Electric.
Microphor was founded in Willits, though it has changed hands several times. The company manufactures toliet and sewage systems for trains and ships. The closure represents a major reversal of fairly recent promises. Only four years ago the company was promising to open a new plant in Willits and hire 40 new employees. However, as a division of the large conglomerate Wabtec, the local plant has little say in its future. There is some irony to this as the company was initially founded by three prominent Mendocino business men, Ed Burton, Bob Harrah and John Mayfield, as a way to capitalize on the one of the byproducts of the logging industry, namely redwood bark, which made an excellent substrate for a kind of composting toliet for trains.
The loss of these 18 jobs is another blow to an already beleagured Willits economy, which has suffered in the wake of the bypass, and with the percipitous drop in the wholesale price of cannabis.
We will update as more information comes in.
Here is the full press issued by Wabtec:
July 17, 2018
Wabtec today regrettably announced the closure of its Microphor production facility based in Willits, California. The closure affects 18 employees and will be conducted in phases beginning approximately January 1, 2019. All Microphor operations in Willits are expected to be discontinued by the close of the first quarter of 2019.
Production at the Willits plant will be consolidated into another Wabtec facility in Greenville, South Carolina in an effort to better meet common customer demand and achieve manufacturing synergies.
All employees affected by the plant closing and not planning to move with the business will receive severance packages and outplacement assistance to help with their transition into new jobs. Employees will also have the opportunity to apply for jobs at other Wabtec locations.
Wabtec is deeply grateful to the many talented team members at the Microphor facility in Willits who have contributed significantly to our company over the years. Unfortunately, the consolidation of our Willits production activities is necessary in order to serve the best interests of our customers and to remain competitive in a challenging market environment.