The Lancaster Duracell plant will shut its doors over the next three years, the company said Wednesday, putting most of its 430 employees out of work.
Just two years after the Lancaster County Council approved an agreement to cut Duracell’s property taxes for the next three decades, Duracell announced Wednesday the plant will reduce production slowly before shutting down in mid-2019.
Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis said the county was working with the local plant as recently as November to provide tax incentives for machinery upgrades.
“I heard it was coming down from corporate, that the decision was made there,” Willis said. “It definitely wasn’t anything with the local support or the local employees.”
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The plant, which has produced AA batteries for more than 35 years, is the seventh-largest employer in the county. The shutdown will begin in stages in March, the company said.
Bob Bundy, chairman of the Lancaster County Council, said Wednesday afternoon he was “really disappointed” to hear of the loss.
He said the county made strong deals with Duracell to continue their business in the area for many years to come.
Back in 2014, Duracell’s former parent company, Procter & Gamble, announced it would invest $69 million over the next five years to expand the plant on S.C. 9 on the city’s northwest side. P&G sold Duracell to the Berkshire Hathaway holding company in February.
Duracell is consolidating North American production of AA and AAA batteries from two U.S. plants to one in LaGrange, Ga., the company said.
Officials say the company will work closely with Lancaster employees to inform them of re-training opportunities and unemployment benefits.
Some affected workers will be encouraged to apply to work at the LaGrange plant. Duracell spokesman Richard Abramowitz said the company did not know how many jobs could be picked up through moves to LaGrange.
“We examined many options before we reached this conclusion,” Robert Lorch, Duracell’s president of global operations, said. “This was a very difficult decision as it affects the lives of our team members and their families who have invested so much in this facility.
“However, after careful deliberation, we’re taking this important step to position the Duracell business for growth.”
Lancaster Mayor John Howard said he was hoping the move could be renegotiated. He called Duracell “an excellent corporate setup” that has strengthened the city and Lancaster County as a whole. County residents already have done an admirable job surviving the loss of textile industries and the recent recession of 2008, he said.
“We live in a different world than 30 to 40 years ago,” Howard said. “That’s the nature of the business world. If it can’t change, we’ve got to roll with the punches.”
The County Council will make it a priority to help retrain the affected workers, Bundy said, and help them find work with other local businesses, including Nutramax or Red Ventures.
The loss hurts, he said, especially considering the property tax agreement in 2014 was scheduled to save Duracell $8 million, and a special source revenue credit would have helped the company save $3.7 million, according to the county’s economic development office at the time.
Duracell said LaGrange was chosen to be the surviving site given the availability of land for potential future expansion, transportation positioning and close contact with the Duracell LaGrange Business Center.
Duracell will continue to maintain global production of C and D batteries at its Cleveland, Tenn., facility.
The county tried its best to practice “economic retention” in helping to upgrade machinery in Duracell’s Lancaster plant, Willis said, but it is surrounded by other buildings and has little room to expand.
That leaves more than 400 workers with an uncertain future, Bundy said.
“And that’s our biggest concern, no question,” he said. “Any business that comes to Lancaster County brings a chance to bring a steady job and be good members for the society.
“It’s a tough blow, but Lancaster has suffered economic blows in the past and recovered from those.”
David Thackham; 803-329-4066