by Scott Robertson
Bristol Compressors executives told the company’s 470 employees in Washington County, Va., on July 31 the plant there will close in 60 days. The company was required by The U.S. Department of Labor’s Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act to notify to Washington County government of its plans. Whitney Bonham Czelusniak, economic development director for the county said that the closing would have a direct negative impact on the county of around $200,000. “That’s only a ballpark figure,” Czelusniak cautioned. “It doesn’t take into account any multipliers or other factors.”
But while the local government is scrambling to replace those funds, the region’s manufacturing employers are scrambling to hire the best fits from the sudden windfall of qualified potential employees.
Local officials pledged to do what they could for displaced workers. Bristol, Va., City Manager Randall Eads praised the Bristol Chamber of Commerce for taking quick action. “The Bristol Chamber has spearheaded an effort to have a job fair for displaced Bristol Compressors workers,” Eades said. That job fair has already been scheduled for Aug. 28 at the Holiday Inn at exit 7 of Interstate 81.
“We are reaching out to manufacturers from Greeneville, Tenn., to Wytheville, Va., in order to get these Bristol Compressors workers rehired,” Eads said. “I actually had Henry County, Va., reach out to me today. They have some manufacturers looking for workers, and I think they will be in attendance at the job fair as well. People from across the region are looking to hire good quality employees and they know they can get those employees here.”
Washington County Board of Supervisors Chairman Saul Hernandez expressed gratitude to the chamber for arranging the job fair and confidence the companies involved would be glad they took part. “This job fair will showcase a very rich pool of highly employable candidates. These folks are workforce ready, skilled individuals who will be an asset to our regional employers who choose to participate in the fair.”
Chamber CEO Beth Rhinehart said opportunities will likely soon arise for workers who need to stay in Bristol. “American Merchant is just gearing up its hiring process. They’re looking at hiring up to 200 individuals. That is a great opportunity for folks to hopefully make a seamless shift if there is an appropriate position available based on their own skill sets and what they can bring from one job to the other. We will certainly do everything in our power to help with that if we can. We will reach out to see if there is anything specific we can do.
“The other thing we can do is to try to connect people with our own member businesses. Other opportunities may exist or may be on the horizon,” Rhinehart said. “Hopefully we can serve as an intermediary between the loss of one job and the transfer into a new one.”
Rhinehart says she’s heartened by the quick response from other manufacturers interested in the possibility of hiring Bristol Compressors workers. “Sixty days will be here before you know it.”