LAGRANGE — Dometic will be shutting down its LaGrange manufacturing plant in two months eliminating the jobs of nearly 200 people.
The multinational corporation filed a WARN Notice with the Indiana Department of Workforce Development Wednesday and then held a meeting at the LaGrange plant with its employees. News of the shut down came as a complete surprise to LaGrange town officials and local leaders.
“Wednesday afternoon was the first I heard of it,” said Mark Eagleson, LaGrange’s town manager.
“I just got word about it a little while again,” Bill Bradley, the CEO of the LaGrange County Economic Development Corporation, said Thursday morning. “I’m trying to gather up some facts myself.”
The LaGrange plant produced awnings for the Dometic’s global RV market, said Scott Nelson, president of Regions America, a division of Dometic that oversees production in the U.S. He said the line is being moved to an existing facility in Monterey, Mexico where Dometic already produces air conditioning units.
“We’ve experienced an industry downturn,” Nelson said. “We are executing basically a global manufacturing strategy to produce where it makes the most sense, and in this particular case — cost is really only one small component — we’re trying to reduce the complexity of product offering while also doing a better job to improve our market position.”
The RV industry still seems to be struggling with decreased demand. According to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association website, total RV industry shipments for November 2019 continued to be in decline. Manufacturers shipped 29,644 wholesale units in November, a decrease of 10.2% from the 33,023 units manufacturers shipped during November 2018.
Overall, RVIA research showed RV shipments for 2019 still trending down, totaling 378,554 units shipped for the year. That’s down 16.9% from the 455,309 units shipped by manufacturers during November of 2018.
Nelson said he made the trip from Elkhart to LaGrange Wednesday to break the news of the shut down to the LaGrange employees.
“This isn’t easy and the local people are the ones who pay the price,” he added. “These are difficult decisions that aren’t made overnight. We’ve been trying to improve our competitiveness in the market and at this point in time. This is the decision that was reached by group management and supported by our board. Unfortunately, it’s a very difficult message to deliver.”
Dometic’s LaGrange Human Resources Manager Jennifer Bristol sent a letter to the state Wednesday telling the state that the “Dometic Corporation will be permanently laying off all its local employees who support the Indiana plant located at 509 South Poplar Street, LaGrange.” She added that the expected shut down date is March 31.
“This is when we believe the operation will cease production and close,” Bristol continued in her letter to the state.
Dometic is a large multinational company with its headquarters in Sweden. Once a part of Electrolux, it was spun off in 2001 and went public four years ago. Dometic produces a wide variety of products for the RV and boating industry, including furnaces, water heaters, coolers, air conditioners, blinds, windows and doors. Bristol lists 197 jobs on the Warn Notice that will be eliminated by the shutdown.
Before Dometic closes the doors at the LaGrange plant, Eagleson, who’s also a member of the LaGrange County EDC board, said he hopes he and Bradley get a chance to talk to representatives of Dometic about helping market the 180,000-square-foot factory as well as helping Dometic employees find new jobs.
“Let us put on a job fair and put the people who are looking for employees together with your people who are now looking for new jobs,” Eagleson said. “Beyond that, I’d like to know what they intend to do with that building. It’s a nice-sized building in pretty good shape and I would think they’d want to work with the EDC. The town of LaGrange has done a lot of infrastructure improvements in or around it. The plant is only 20 miles from I-69 and eight from the Toll Road. That could be a real win from a marketing standpoint.”
Nelson said Dometic is already talking about finding a new owner or tenant for the LaGrange factory.
“We’ll try to sell it or lease it,” he said. “We’ve had an interest in it in the past, not only from the RV industry but elsewhere. But this is something that we will try to sell, or try to lease, as quickly as we can after the closure.”