What's next for Dana plant?

Monday, May 7, 2007
Sarah Messmer loaded gear sets after cutting teeth grooves Thursday at Dana Corp., which primarily produces products for Ford automobiles. Messmer, a 16 year veteran at Dana Corp., thinks finding a job of equal pay and benefits will be difficult once Dana Corp. closes next year. (Kit Doyle)

Cape Girardeau's Dana Corp. plant is going on the market, and its employees have been left wondering what to do.

Tom Kelsey, commercial broker with Lorimont Place Ltd., will team up with national, state and regional industrial recruitment professionals, including Mitch Robinson with Cape Girardeau Area Magnet and John Mehner with the Chamber of Commerce, to create awareness of the availability of the property at 2075 Corporate Circle.

Meanwhile, the 163 employees at the plant are either staying until the end of production to receive severance benefits or leaving to get an early start on their job search.

"It's a difficult balance for us -- trying to keep enough people here to meet production demands while also working to ensure on-going security for our employees and their families," plant manager Max Dunlap said.

The industrial plant, which manufactures auto parts for Ford Motor Co., filed for bankruptcy protection in June, and in December announced plans for plant closings. According to Dunlap, the end of operations in the Cape Girardeau plant will come around Thanksgiving and final closure of the plant will be in the second quarter of 2008.

Gear sets wait to be cut at Cape Girardeau's Dana Corp. on Thursday, May 3, 2007. Production will cease at Thanksgiving this year, with machinery then being shipped to sister locations before the official close in the second quarter of 2008. (Kit Doyle)

This was one of eight Dana facilities scheduled to close, along with three others that are downsizing, with estimated savings between $405 million and $540 million annually, the Toledo, Ohio-based company said.

"It's a difficult time for American auto companies," Dunlap said.

Some of the equipment already is being shipped out to plants in Indiana and Mexico for consolidation.

"Manufacturing is going across the border and abroad, but we have been fortunate to attract some new manufacturing companies," Kelsey said.

Kelsey's most recent real estate successes include the 273,000 square-foot Silgan building on Nash Road, the former 103,000 square-foot Rubbermaid distribution center warehouse in Jackson, the Columbia Sportswear building in Chaffee, the former 240,000 square-foot Supervalu property and a 100,000 square-foot building, both in Scott City. Two Sikeston industrial facilities totaling more than 162,000 square feet also have been sold within the last four months.

Closing the Cape Girardeau Dana Corp. will put over 150 employees out of work. The plant has been cutting production since it peaked in late 2003, which Plant Manager Max Dunlop attributes to the struggling U.S. auto industry. (Kit Doyle)

Robinson, an industrial recruiter, recently was instrumental in bringing three new industries to the Cape Girardeau-Jackson-Scott City area: National Asset Recovery Service Inc., Signature Packaging and Paper, and Mid-South Wire Co.

Dunlap is helping to provide a soft landing for every employee making transitions to retirement, self-employment, higher education or employment elsewhere, while at the same time trying to achieve a controlled decline of production.

Counseling sessions have been set up with the Career and Technology Center for employees, and there is a job fair in July.

"The decision to close this plant was not a reflection on the people that work here," said Dunlap. "The people in this plant spent more than 15 years building a solid reputation with our customers and with our community. It is our intent to solidify that reputation and set it in stone."

Dunlap, who has lived in Cape Girardeau County for nearly four years with his wife and two sons, has worked for Dana for about 11 years in a few different states. He hopes to find another job in the area.

"My kids don't come with wheels like my suitcase," he said, adding that his sons are at the age where they're ready to settle and he enjoys the quality of life in Cape Girardeau.

Seventy percent of the employees at Cape Girardeau's Dana plant, which opened in 1990, have been working there for 10 years or longer, Dunlap said, and the average pay was $15.50 per hour.

According to Scott Sattler, local supervisor with Workforce Development, the employees qualify for education assistance through the state's Trade Adjustment Assistance program.

Wayne Betitt, the company's union representative who has been working at the plant for 13 years, is thinking about going back to school for computer networking if the job market isn't looking promising.

"I thought I was here until the end," said Kathy Lange, a plant cell leader of 12 years, who may also go back to school.

tkrakowiak@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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