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News Whitley closes

Employees of Franklin's Whitley Products Inc. plant were given a one day notice of the plant's closure last week. Citing financial troubles, Whitley informed its more than 100 employees on Wednesday via a written letter that the plant may close, and then on Thursday, they were sent home. A prospective buyer is currently in the due diligence phase of evaluating the plant with the possibility of purchasing it. Photo by Vickie CarpenterNegotiations in works for sale of Franklin facility

More than 100 people found themselves out of a job last week, when they were informed that Whitley Products Franklin facility would be closing its doors. With just a day's notice, employees showed up for work on Thursday morning, and were turned away.

Employees first caught wind of the problem Wednesday morning when they received a letter from Whitley's corporate office in West Warsaw, Ind. The letter cited financial difficulties as being the reason for the facility's demise. "As we recently explained to you, Whitley Products, Inc. is in serious financial difficulty. The recent confusion regarding the company's prospects is due to the fact that our senior lender has not funded as anticipated."

The plant's closing could be temporary. According to the letter, "management is now negotiating the possible sale of the company to a proposed buyer, and progress is being made, making us cautiously optimistic that a favorable outcome is within reach."

On Monday morning, County Commissioner Chairman Kevin Corbin said that after plant employees notified him of the possible closure last Wednesday, he began working with County Manager Jack Horton to try to devise a plan to allow the facility to continue operations.

"After we found out about it, Jack Horton and I instructed county staff to contact Whitley and offer any assistance we could to prevent the plant from closing," said Corbin. "We offered to facilitate a meeting with the North Carolina Department of Commerce as well as AdvantageWest, in hopes of finding a solution to the problem."

In addition to offering to work with the local Whitley plant, Corbin and Horton also offered to make the trip to Indiana to meet with management at the company's headquarters. Corbin said that before anything could be done, he heard the plant had closed.

"I was actually surprised to hear it had closed so soon after we were first notified of the possibility," said Corbin. "The county is still available to help in any way to keep the employer here. We continue to be, in my opinion, in a recession and it is important to not only work to bring new job opportunities here, but to retain the jobs that we have."

Corbin noted that as a branch of government, what type of help can be given to a private employer such as Whitley is limited, but still exists. "We can only do so much, but whatever we are capable of doing, we are more than willing to do it."

According to Corbin, a potential buyer is currently in the due diligence phase of evaluating Whitley, which could save more than 100 jobs in Macon County.

Whitley Products has been servicing customers for over six decades and is the largest Tier Two supplier of precision tubular products to the diesel engine, agricultural equipment, off-highway, construction equipment and HVAC markets.

Since opening the plant in Franklin in 1982, Whitley has consistently employed at least 100 people for more than 20 years.

Last August, Whitley employee Ralph Bell reported seeing a decrease in sales due to the recession, but at the time, remained optimistic that the company would be sustainable. “Our sales have dropped some during the recession due to people being slow about buying farm and construction equipment,” said Bell in August. “Whitley Products has invested in new technology and equipment and started introducing lean manufacturing to the production floor to reduce cost, lead time and build a better quality part. Our customers are very encouraged that we are working towards lean manufacturing.”

With the corporate headquarters in Warsaw, Ind., Whitley has two other facilities, one located in Plymouth, Indiana, and the other in Franklin.


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