Layoff count at 22: Benwood officials expect plant to close

BENWOOD – Employees of the AZZ Galvanizing plant in Benwood met armed security guards as they arrived for work Thursday, Police Chief Frank Longwell said, noting the guards notified workers their employment had been terminated.

The 22 laid-off workers were given 30 minutes to collect their things and leave. Benwood officials expect the plant to close.

Longwell said his office received a call about 7 a.m. Thursday asking for a police presence to backup security personnel as the employees were laid off. He said Sgt Bryan Handzus was dispatched to oversee the layoff.

“We hate to see one job lost, let alone 22,” Longwell said Friday. “On the city’s viewpoint, we’re sad to see any business close.”

Mayor Ed Kuca Jr. said news of the layoffs came as a disappointing and unpleasant surprise.

“In 2008, I remember we met with North American Galvanizing, who operated the plant at that time,” Kuca said. “I thought there was a need for that. I mean, it was coating everything. Then in 2009, I saw the state-of-the-art facility and I thought, ‘This place is going to be here for a while.'”

North American Galvanizing sold the plant to AZZ Galvanizing in 2011, and Kuca said he was glad to see more money being put into the community.

“We want more jobs, not less,” said Kuca. “They had some hard-working employees there. They were making a liveable wage. When I heard the news of the plant closing, it was a sad and disappointing day.”

Longwell said the plant is being staffed by AZZ Galvanizing corporate employees and guarded by armed security personnel while the zinc, acid and other chemicals in the plant are removed.

“In a few weeks, the plant should be empty,” said Longwell.

“Hopefully somebody else will buy it and rehire these people,” said Kuca. “We still have hope for Benwood.”

Longwell mentioned the Benwood Economic Development Committee, of which he is chairman, has been in touch with Mull Industries and other companies regarding future plans for Benwood’s industrial park. He said he is optimistic about those talks.

“We’ll do our part to get that space filled,” said Longwell. “We have some good leads that might work to fill that space back up. Our priority is tax revenue for the city and jobs for the people.”

AZZ Galvanizing representatives said Friday that they have no comment about the layoffs at this time.