If Haldex employees in Blue Springs got caught off-guard by this week's announcement of the plant's impending closure, they weren't alone.
Blue Springs city officials said they had no idea the plant would close by the end of 2020, with layoffs starting next month and 154 total jobs lost.
“We were notified late in the day Tuesday, and there was not really an explanation,” said Tom Cole, the city's director of community and economic development.
“No clue it was going to happen,” Mayor Carson Ross said Friday. “Basically a shock. I thought everything was going fine there.”
In its announcement this week, the Swedish auto parts manufacturer said it would be shifting production of brake adjusters from Blue Springs to its largest production facility in Mexico for cheaper labor costs and the opportunity to streamline production. The company says that will save it about $2.5 million annually.
The Blue Springs plant opened in 1981. Cole said Haldex did get tax abatement starting in 1994, but that concluded 10 years later.
“In my position, we ask ourselves, what could we have done better?” he said. “It purely seems to be cheaper labor in Mexico; there was not anything wrong with Blue Springs. They've been a good corporate citizen here.”
Cole said a situation like this is tough to fight.
“You're not going to fight to have lower wages in your own town,” he said.
However, Cole said a number of Blue Springs manufacturing companies are in the market to add employees, particularly in tool-and-dye skills.
“We hope they can absorb some of those jobs,” Cole said.
“Our No. 1 priority is how to help the 150 people that are going to lose their jobs,” Ross said. “I don't know the inner workings of Haldex, with severance and that. We're very hopeful there will be some opportunities for people that can't retire yet.”
Furthermore, Haldex's building at 2400 N.E. Coronado Drive on the east edge of Blue Springs would appear to a prime site for a small expanding company, Cole said. The building is about 60,000 square feet, by his estimation.
“It really hits right in the sweet spot for manufacturers now,” Cole said. “I don't really see that building sitting vacant long. They close at the end of 2020; I wouldn't be surprised if that building is swooped up by then.”
Layoffs will begin Dec. 13 and continue periodically until the final closure scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2020, according to Haldex Brake Products' letter to the Missouri Division of Workforce Development, which is mandated by the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act.
“We decided to inform as early as possible to give our employees additional time between the announcement and the actual date they will leave,” said Catharina Paulcén, Haldex spokesperson in Sweden.
A message Friday seeking comment from Haldex's North American headquarters was not returned.
“In retrospect, I guess it should come as a surprise,” Ross said, “but when you start looking for the cheapest labor, are you getting quality?
“A corporate company is going to do what it's going to do; there's not a whole we can do about that,” the mayor said. “I know not every employee lived in Blue Springs, but a lot of the shopped here and spent money. So, from an economic standpoint, we're all affected.”