Salem awaits a final decision on General Electric plant

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The GE plant, which once employed 3,500 workers, began full operation in 1956.
Photo by Don Petersen

Word that General Electric may close its Salem plant took many people by surprise.

“The GE plant and its workers have been integral parts of Salem’s fabric for more than 60 years,” Mayor Randy Foley said in a statement. “When the plant employed over 3,000 back in its heyday, it seemed like everyone you knew had a family member who was working there, and many of them were actively involved in the community and their respective neighborhoods.”

City Manager Kevin Boggess said in the same statement that he was surprised and “saddened to learn that the GE plant is potentially closing at the end of the year … GE truly has been a Salem institution for decades, and we hope that many of these individuals can find new employment elsewhere in the valley.”

In June, GE informed the plant’s hourly employees of tentative plans to end manufacturing operations. If the site is closed, about 265 workers would be affected, with nearly half eligible for retirement, the company said. Employees would receive severance packages, including transition support to new employment, the company said.

Industrial plants nationwide have been through “tough times in recent years,” Foley said. “I think we always knew this was a possibility, especially since GE has been reducing its workforce worldwide in past years.”

In December, GE announced plans to cut 12,000 jobs in its power business to reduce costs. The company’s tentative plan to shut down the Salem plant is based on the “ongoing challenges in the power industry and a significant decline in orders at this facility,” the company said.

The Salem plant, a controls factory that creates cabinetry hardware and circuit boards, began full operation in 1956. The 450,000-square-foot facility had 2,200 employees on its original payroll. Records indicate that employment at the plant reached 3,500 at its peak.

If GE decides to go forward with the plant closing, it would likely take place during the next 12 to 24 months. GE will continue to have a presence in the Salem area, “employing more than 200 professionals across our Power, Renewable Energy and Baker Hughes businesses,” the company said.

The financial impact on the city will not be “nearly as significant as it would have been 20 or 30 years ago because the plant’s production has been greatly reduced in recent years,” Boggess said.

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