ST. GEORGE – In the wake of the Feb. 12 announcement that the architectural glass manufacturer Viracon, Inc. will close its St. George manufacturing plant in April, the company, its employees and local employers are scrambling to find solutions to minimize the impact on the Washington County workforce.
The closing of the plant, which Viracon has attributed to the economic downturn of the past several years, will put around 220 workers in jeopardy of unemployment, some of whom moved to the area specifically to take a job with the company. At this point, the closure is expected to be temporary.
“We’ll be closed between two and three years,” said Brandon Dansie, human resources manager for Viracon’s St. George Plant. “It really depends on the market.”
Since the closure was announced, Viracon has been assisting its workers in finding new employment, both internally and through the Utah Department of Workforce Services. In early March, DWS offered employees Rapid Response Workshops, which covered topics including résumé writing, online job searching, networking and interviewing techniques. Viracon and DWS also partnered to hold a job fair at the plant on Wednesday.
Fifteen local employers, including the Utah Army National Guard, Allconnect and Dixie Applied Technology College attended the fair, which will potentially benefit 215 Viracon workers. Employees put their best foot forward and presented their skills and experience in hopes of finding a job.
“I owned my own framing company for five years and was a framing contractor for 12 years before that. I’ve served in the National Guard and been deployed twice,” Brent Bunnell said.
“I just moved to St. George seven months ago,” José Figueroa said. “This is my first job here, but I think I have a lot to offer (employers.)”
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Videocast by Sarafina Amodt
DWS representative Carrie Mayne offered the following insights on the impacts Viracon’s closing may have on the local workforce:
- The loss of manufacturing jobs will amount to approximately a ten percent drop in manufacturing employment in Washington County.
- Family Dollar, which is building a new distribution center in Washington County has stepped forward as a potential employer for many displaced Viracon workers. The average monthly wage for distribution centers in this area is slightly higher than that of manufacturing, so potentially there is a net gain for overall wages with the opening of the new distribution center. This potential will depend on the relative mix of jobs in each specific business.
- Isolating these two economic events may give the appearance of a zero-sum game, but it should also be noted that Washington County’s economic situation is very healthy. The latest employment numbers, from September 2012, show a job growth rate of 5.8 percent. The county is fully poised to realize strong ripple effects from the plant closing, distribution center opening and other areas of expansion.
- The only small hurdle resulting from Viracon’s closing may be the pains of market adjustments. As jobs are lost and new opportunities open, individuals and businesses often have to make adjustments in order for labor markets to clear. Employee training, skill building, recruitment and other activities may be needed in order for the labor market to come to equilibrium.
“DWS has been and will continue to work closely with Viracon to aid displaced workers,” DWS representative Teresa Banks said. “Individuals can access our website to register for work, seek new employment, file for unemployment benefits and apply for temporary assistance. They are also invited to access additional resources such as Work Success and Work Readiness evaluations at the local DWS office.”
Because many Viracon employees have a unique skill set that requires extensive training, Dansie said he hopes that their relocation to new jobs while the plant is closed will be temporary.
“When we come back, we’re going to need an experienced workforce,” Dansie said. “We’d like to hire back the same people, if possible.”
In the meantime, “I’ve just got to go and try to find another job,” Bunnell said.
St. George News reporter Sarafina Amodt contributed to this article.
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