Pittsburgh Corning Corp. is closing its doors in Port Allegany, with an end date of October projected.
In a surprise move Tuesday, the company announced the closure of the 79-year-old glass block plant — the oldest in the Pittsburgh Corning company. The approximately 75 Port Allegany employees were told shortly before a press release was distributed to the media.
Pittsburgh Corning “has decided to close its glass block manufacturing plant located in Port Allegany … and exit the glass block business,” reads the release from the company. “The glass block business has been challenged for the last several years by the weak housing market in the United States.”
John Caverno, global vice president of human resources for Pittsburgh Corning, said, “It’s sad news for us. It’s news that we didn’t want to deliver, but we’ve exhausted all of our options and felt it was the right thing to do.”
In April, the company emerged from asbestos-related bankruptcy after more than 16 years. However, Caverno said, there’s no connection between the bankruptcy and the decision to close the Port Allegany plant.
“For the last eight years, the business has been losing money,” he explained. “It started with the crash of the housing market. The business never recovered from that.”
The problems were compounded by foreign companies making and importing glass blocks into the U.S., “foreign competitors that added capacity to the market at a point when demand was falling,” Caverno explained.
“We’ve been working for the last eight years to restore the business to profitability,” he added.
However, that is not the only problem inhibiting the success of the Port Allegany plant.
“There is also some significant capital investment that is required to keep the company operating safely,” Caverno acknowledged. “That kind of forced the decision.”
A search has been under way for the better part of a year for someone else to take the reins of the plant, but no potential buyers were found, he said.
The glass plant was established in Port Allegany in 1937. “It was the first plant that was built when PPG and Corning, our prior shareholders, entered into the business.”
Caverno said the closure will impact about 75 active employees in the plant, and 10 sales people who work at Port Allegany and at other sites. “And we have some folks in our Pittsburgh office devoted to the glass block business,” he said, explaining some people there will be out of work as well.
“We do have a labor agreement that the hourly employees there are represented by the United Steelworkers,” Caverno said. “We’ll be working with the Steelworkers to manage the separations in an orderly fashion.”
“Pittsburgh Corning is planning for an orderly shutdown of the operations to provide the smoothest transition possible for both employees and long-time customers,” the press release read. “These activities will begin during the next few weeks and are expected to conclude this fall. The company’s primary objective during the shutdown process will be to continue to operate in a safe manner and satisfy the existing backlog of orders.”
The shutdown will be taken in stages.
“What we call the hot part of the factory where we’re melting the glass will close first, some time toward the end of June we’ll be shutting down the melter,” Caverno said. “The downstream operations like assembly, shipping and maintenance will wind down as we go through summer and into the fall.
“The expectation is everything will be completed sometime in October, towards the end of the month,” he added.
Not all employees will be released at once, but the schedule of termination will be in accordance with the employee’s job within the plant. That will be done with input from the union, Caverno added.
While Pittsburgh Corning has not been able to line up a buyer for the Port Allegany operations, they eventually will be looking to sell the land.
“At some point, once the orderly shutdown has occurred and we’ve exited the business as smoothly as possible, then we’ll turn our attention to the land and trying to find a buyer for it,” Caverno said.
He added, “It was a tough day for folks in Port Allegany, first and foremost, but it’s also a tough day for their colleagues around the world who are sad to see part of the Pittsburgh Corning heritage be affected this way.
“It’s a tough day for the organization.”
The Pittsburgh Corning glass block business is the largest United States manufacturer of premium glass block products and specialized architectural window systems for commercial, institutional, government and residential buildings. Pittsburgh Corning Corp. is owned by the Pittsburgh Corning Asbestos Personal Injury Trust.