Bucyrus leaders working to keep GE plant viable

City seeks help from Walmart

By Andrew Carter - [email protected]

BUCYRUS — City of Bucyrus officials have asked retail giant Walmart to help keep the GE Lighting-Savant manufacturing plant operating in Crawford County.

On March 6, GE-Savant shut down its A-19 LED light bulb production line at the Bucyrus plant. GE-Savant announced on Jan. 6 that it was planning to close the line.

Eighty-one employees, all members of IUE-CWA Local Local 84704, were affected by the decision. According to a GE spokesperson, a total of 46 employees were laid off and the rest found new jobs before the line was shut down.

Representatives of GE-Savant and IUE-CWA met to discuss options for keeping the line open, but were unable to reach an agreement.

IUE-CWA officials previously stated that they fear the closing of the A-19 LED production line is a prelude to GE-Savant shuttering the Bucyrus plant.

“We are concerned not just about these (81) jobs — we are worried that if this product line leaves, the whole plant could close, leaving over 200 people out on the street,” Will Evans, a GE-Savant employee and president of IUE-CWA Local 84704, said in a press release issued by the union in January.

Ben Sabol, director of communications for GE Lighting, said in a prepared statement that the company “did everything within our power” to reach “a planned target production cost that was sustainable in the market,” but was unable to compete with the lower cost of doing business overseas.

“Due to legislation and components that can only be sourced from overseas, nearly 100% of LEDs on the market are not manufactured in the U.S.,” Sabol said in the statement. “In 2019, after another lighting company exited LED production from the U.S., we undertook the bold and challenging task of trying to bring jobs from China to the U.S. … We also consulted with GE-trained expert lighting engineers lured out of retirement, numerous world-class LEAN manufacturing experts, Ph.D. physicists and many others.

“Unfortunately, we suffered the same fate as others before us. We factored all potential cost savings ideas into our financial analysis and still the economics of our A19 LED assembly in Bucyrus proved to be unsustainable. The decision to eliminate recently created jobs was not a decision we came to quickly or took lightly.”

Meanwhile, Walmart recently announced a $350 billion Made in America initiative to purchase products “made, grown, or assembled” in the United States through 2030, according to a March 8 story on the Alliance for American Manufacturing website. In light of that announcement, Bucyrus and Crawford County officials approached Walmart about the possibility of some of the $350 billion being spent locally to automate the A-19 LED light bulb line at the GE-Savant Bucyrus plant.

According to a press release issued by the City of Bucyrus, Mayor Jeff Reser, Safety-Service Director Jeff Wagner, Crawford Partnership Executive Director Gary Frankhouse, and former Bucyrus Council member and current GE employee Steve Pifer met with Walmart officials on March 8 to discuss what the loss of the 81 jobs means to the local economy.

“We emphasized the importance of Made in U.S.A. jobs throughout all of America, especially rural America and that the production of light bulbs is critical not only to Bucyrus but to the nation as well,” the press release states. “Bucyrus representatives asked Walmart officials to strongly consider investing a small portion of these funds in automating the now closed LED line which would make the GE-Savant manufacturing plant profitable, insuring a long-term relationship with our local plant.

“Walmart officials have been concerned about the closing of the LED line and have communicated ideas to GE-Savant on ways to keep the line in Bucyrus. To date, the discussions have not been successful. Walmart officials are monitoring the situation and are willing to work with GE-Savant as needed to insure local production.”

However, Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch, senior vice president for communications at the Alliance for American Manufacturing, said officials with that organization have expressed skepticism about the latest Walmart Made in America pledge. The Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer initiated a similar program in 2013.

“The whole thing has always struck us as a nice PR campaign rather than an actual, transformative effort to truly support Made in America,” Brotherton-Bunch wrote in the March 8 article on the Alliance for American Manufacturing website. “For one, it’s unclear where Walmart even stands on its original commitment from eight years ago, although President and CEO John Furner promised last week that the company is ‘on track to deliver.’ Second, the ‘grown’ part of the commitment does a lot of the work here — we previously pointed out that two-thirds of it comes from groceries, not manufactured products.”

According to the Journal of Commerce, in 2019, Walmart was the No. 1 importer in the United States. In December 2020, the company announced that it will spend $10 billion annually on products made in India.

City seeks help from Walmart

By Andrew Carter

[email protected]

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Follow @GalionInquirer on Twitter.