The Viracon architectural glass assembly plant near Statesboro will close completely by Dec. 30 as part of a plan by parent company Apogee Enterprises Inc. to realign and simplify its business structure, corporate officials said Wednesday and Thursday.
Viracon, whose framed glass panels adorn Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and form much of the exterior of stunningly sculptural Doji Tower in Hanoi, Vietnam, was for years as much of an industrial calling card for Statesboro and Bulloch County as for the company’s Minnesota headquarters. Through a series of ups and downs, including a 2012 temporary shutdown and subsequent recovery, the Viracon plant has operated in Gateway Industrial Park south of Statesboro since 1998.
For a time in the early 2000s, nearly 600 people worked there. Now the approximately 200 people still employed after earlier reductions are losing their jobs.
“This is a difficult, but necessary decision, which resulted from changes in our company’s strategy,” wrote Jeff Huebschen, Apogee’s vice president for investor relations and communications. “We recognize the impact this will have on employees and we are providing various programs to support employees in transition. The specific details vary across our different locations.”
A news release posted on the corporate website Wednesday had stated that Apogee will reduce its overall workforce by approximately 400 employees while closing two manufacturing facilities, the Statesboro Viracon plant and the Velocity Glass in Dallas, Texas. The release also stated that the company would begin carrying out its announced changes immediately and expected to have them substantially completed in the first quarter of its 2023 fiscal year. For Apogee, that would be March -May of 2022.
But in his reply email to the Statesboro Herald on Thursday, Huebschen clarified that the company expects the Statesboro facility to be completely closed by Dec. 30, 2021.
The formal announcement also stated that the work now performed at the plant here will be shifted to the Viracon plant in Owatonna, Minnesota. So Huebschen was asked whether some employees losing jobs at the Statesboro plant would be able to relocate to Owatonna.
“Our Owatonna, MN facility currently has enough capacity to take on the work that is currently performed in Statesboro,” he replied. “With that in mind, we do not anticipate relocating employees from Statesboro to Owatonna.”
‘Very sad news’
As recently as Tuesday morning’s annual meeting of the Development Authority of Bulloch County, the authority’s CEO, Benjy Thompson, listed Viracon among the county’s existing industries, giving rough estimates of the workforce numbers at each. In fact, he noted that the Viracon plant was down to about 200 employees after the pandemic affected its business.
Then the development authority staff received word the very next morning that the factory will close.
“It’s very sad news and it’s always a shock, but as we discussed a little bit on Tuesday, they’ve been through some difficult pandemic-related issues that were short-term and long-term, so it wasn’t terribly surprising when you have a chance to sit back and think about it, but it’s always shocking when a plant like that one closes in a community,” Thompson said Thursday.
For the past 23 years Viracon “has been a great community partner and a great corporate business partner” in addition to employing a large number of people, he said.
“So it’s a sad thing that has happened,” Thompson said. “Obviously the saddest is for the employees and their families.”
Officially, the development authority is not directly involved in helping the soon to be out of work employees transition to new jobs. Usually the Georgia Department of Labor and the company itself lead that effort, Thompson noted, but he said the DABC has offered to do anything it can to help in the short term.
That will include talking to key people at other local industries in an effort to facilitate contacts between Viracon employees and prospective employers, he said. Thompson said that some job fairs are likely.
“We’ll keep working to get new employers to come to Bulloch County, and we’re growing and the economy is good here and we’ve got a lot to offer, so I think long-term we’ll recover from this and we’ll have another Viracon-type facility come to Statesboro, another good corporate partner with lots of opportunities for jobs and capital investment,” he said. “So we think things will be OK in the long run, and we’ll do the best we can in the short run to help those people who have been negatively affected.”
Viracon or its parent company years ago became the outright owner of the factory property, so it will not revert to the DABC or the county government. But if given the opportunity, the authority will help to market the facility, seeking another business to move into it, Thompson said.
The Herald’s voicemail messages left at the Georgia Department of Labor’s Statesboro job center and for a GDOL state communications officer had not been returned by Thursday’s story posting.
The story is subject to update or additions for Friday evening posting and the Saturday print edition.