2016-11-02 / Front Page

Sam Dong shuts down operations in Waynesboro

By Diana Royal

Jaw dropping.

That’s how a former Sam Dong employee described last Friday’s plant-wide meeting as the South Korean-based company announced it was shutting down local operations – immediately.

“We all knew something was going on,” said the man, who wished to remain anonymous, adding that management remained tight-lipped until the morning of Oct. 28. “We found out that night shift was told not to report that day, and then they called us all into the meeting and started giving everyone some papers. As each person got the paper, you could see their mouth drop.”

But the mood did shift even though employees were reading that they’d be out of a job, that very day. “The morale in the room fluctuated,” the former employee explained, noting that first it was nervousness, followed by devastation, and then some hope topped off the grim news. “They started explaining things to us, that we would remain on payroll through the end of the year, that we’d still have insurance, that we could get unemployment after the first. We all were able to relax a little more knowing that they were not just dropping us like a bad habit.”

Frank Thompson, Sam Dong’s Finance Manager and Safety Officer, confirmed the news in a statement to The True Citizen earlier this week.

“All employees will be paid full wages and benefits through the end of the year,” he said, noting that approximately 60 individuals were affected by the shutdown of the plant, which produces specialty wires used in power transformers. Its other two U.S. locations, in Tennessee and Ohio, will continue to operate.

Thompson said when Sam Dong acquired the Waynesboro facility in 2012, the business was booming and expected to grow. “Beginning in 2010, we invested over $400 million in capacity (plant and equipment) in the U.S. in anticipation of a growing transformer market,” he said, adding that the growth continued until 2014 “when the increasing value of the U.S. dollar began to push demand overseas.” Markets that were expected to grow by 8 to 10 percent actually began declining as much as 20 to 25 percent.

"Suddenly we were faced with underutilized factories that until recently were running overtime to meet demand,” Thompson continued. “Sam Dong reassessed the U.S. market and concluded that it will not improve in the foreseeable future. Although painful, the decision was made to cease operations at Sam Dong Georgia and stop the unsustainable losses.”

Jessica Hood, executive director of the Development Authority of Burke County, said the county received official notice of the closure on Thursday, Oct. 27. “Prior to this notice, we were not aware of any plans to cease operations.”

Hood went on to say that all efforts are being made to assist the 62 full-time employees who were eliminated.

“The state has resources available through the Georgia Department of Labor, as well as the Georgia Department of Economic Development, to aid and assist the employees of companies who are downsizing or closing their facilities,” she said. “Soon after the employees were notified of the closure, representatives of the company and the development authority connected with these entities to engage their services.”

During this week, according to Hood, representatives of these departments will meet with company officials and displaced employees with new employment opportunities or opportunities for retraining.

“We are hopeful that these efforts will help minimize the impact of this situation as much as possible on both the employees and the community,” Hood said.

The plant, located on the northern end of Burke Veterans Parkway, boasts a 200,000-square foot production building and a 50-acre tract of land. It previously served as home to ASTA, from 2008 until Sam Dong’s 2012 acquisition.

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