Bristol Compressors’ closing eliminates 468 jobs

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Job fairs held for Bristol Compressors workers attracted scores of
local employers. Photo courtesy Bristol Herald Courier

When Bristol Compressors said it was closing, the late July announcement hit the Bristol area hard. The shutdown of the 43-year-old plant will eliminate 468 jobs, 13 percent of Washington County’s manufacturing employment.

“It’s a tough time,” says Saul Hernandez, chairman of the county’s Board of Supervisors, “but we’re helping our neighbors, and we’re optimistic.”

Some Bristol Compressor workers, he says, “felt betrayed to some degree. There was a severance plan that was in place that was suspended. … You know, it’s hard, but they have their family and their faith.”

They also have a community that’s rallied to support them.

Businesses have offered help with printing and résumés. Restaurants and churches have offered free meals. The area’s chambers of commerce, local governments and business organizations held two job fairs, one with 42 employers gathered in Abingdon and another with more than 100 companies in Bristol.

With a local unemployment rate of 3.7 percent, those employers were happy to have an applicant pool that’s proven it’s workforce ready, Hernandez says.

“I’m hearing that some folks are finding some jobs, and they’re pretty well pleased with an applicant pool that has proved to be workforce-ready,” Hernandez says.

Bristol Compressors produced compressors used in air conditioning systems, heat pumps and refrigeration units. 

The company has had a rocky history in recent years. It laid off 250 workers in 2012 after one investment group sold it to another. Eighty employees were let go in 2016.

“They’ve gone through so many hands,” Hernandez says. “I don’t know that there’s been anybody in there that’s had a long-term outlook in terms of Bristol Compressors. I think it’s been more year-to-year, tactically.”

At the beginning of this year, Bristol Compressors announced a partnership to develop new, more efficient, compressors. But in the end that change wasn’t enough to keep the company afloat.

Since 1998, state and local governments have given the company more than $4.6 million to aid in areas such as work-force training.

“We had a lot of discussions with Bristol Compressors that we weren’t allowed to publicize before they shut down,” Hernandez says, “but we’re not private equity. We’re not venture capitalists. We just can’t do that with taxpayer money.”

On its website, Bristol Compressors promised “an orderly end to production.” That may be a challenge, according to Hernandez. Employees are finding other jobs.

“They’re worried they won’t have enough people to run the plant and fill their orders,” he says. “You know, when you know your job’s ending in 35 days and you have no severance, there’s no loyalty.”

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