Danville grapples with Ikea plant closure

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce
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Ikea says it will provide job search assistance to the 300 workers
who will be let go. Photo by Mark Rhodes

The closing of Danville’s Ikea plant at the end of the year is terrible news for its employees, but the mood in the city is not as heavy as it was when Danville’s textiles and tobacco industries collapsed in the 1990s.

The Swedish furniture manufacturer’s 300 local employees will be able to work until production ends in December, and the company is working with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union and federal, state and local agencies to provide support and job search assistance.

“The Ikea Industry board of directors made the decision in late June and we announced it to our co-workers on July 10,”
says site manager Bert Eades. “We understand it is a tough message, and we will support all co-workers as much as possible in this time of change. Despite many efforts to improve, the cost structure for production in Danville is still too high, especially when it comes to raw materials. This results in pricing that is significantly higher than for other plants making the same products.”

The loss of a business and 300 jobs is significant to Danville and Pittsylvania County’s manufacturing labor force of nearly 18,000, but the region is “now on the road to economic revitalization, helped in part by foreign investment, particularly advanced manufacturing projects from the United Kingdom,” says former Danville mayor Linwood Wright, now a consultant with the city’s office of economic development.

With several manufacturers, a large call center and other employers operating now or in the near future, the region is no longer as vulnerable to economic devastation as it was in the 1990s, when textile and tobacco employers closed up shop.

Meanwhile, Eades has plans for a job fair to help his colleagues find new work, and he has talked with Danville Community College about providing educational opportunities. Also, Ikea is helping to find a new occupant for the nearly 1-million-square-foot plant it has occupied since 2008 in Cane Creek Centre, an industrial park jointly owned by the city and the county. Several parties have already expressed interest.

“It’s our intent to do everything we possibly can do to bring at least equivalent employment to this site so Ikea’s workers will have an opportunity to seek jobs that will minimize any time out of work,” says Telly Tucker, Danville’s director of economic development.

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