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Laid-off W. Md. workers plan to stay in area Garrett Co. attractive despite jobs shortage


OAKLAND -- His employer might be leaving this Western Maryland town of 1,800 people, but Wayne Alexander is going to try his hardest to stay.

"I was bred, born and raised [here], and I'll die here," he said.

Mr. Alexander, a machine operator who has worked for Bausch & Lomb for more than 24 years, is one of 600 employees who were told Jan. 10 that the sunglasses manufacturer would close its Oakland plant by the end of the year.

Many employees, including Mr. Alexander, hope to stay in the area because of its low crime rate, good schools and small-town friendliness.

But they face an uphill battle finding employment in a county with too few jobs already.

While the November unemployment rate for Maryland was less than 5 percent, the rate for Garrett County was more than 10 percent.

Plant Manager Bedford N. "Buff" Bruno said most of the employees he has spoken with would prefer to stay put.

"A big chunk of them are tied to the area," he said. "This is where they've grown up and where their families are."

Mr. Alexander said he prefers Garrett County's slow-paced lifestyle. "You know everybody in the community. Violent crime is virtually nonexistent," he said.

There was only one murder in the county of 28,000 residents in 1993 and 1994, according to state police.

Mr. Alexander said he realizes it probably won't be possible to find a job in Garrett County that matches the paycheck he is receiving now. "This is probably one of the higher-paying jobs in the county, other than a coal mine," he said.

Nevertheless, he said, "I can't see myself leaving even if I have to work two jobs."

He is divorced with two adult children and has just built a house with his girlfriend, whom he met at the plant. She has a child, age 9.

He said he has made a lot of friends at the plant and it has provided him with a good lifestyle. "So in that respect, I have a lot of respect for the lady. I've always referred to Bausch & Lomb as a lady. I don't know why."

He added: "I don't totally blame B&L.; It's smart business to make everything under one roof."

The Bausch & Lomb plant, which opened in 1971, is the largest private employer in Garrett County. The company is closing the plant to combine all the phases of its manufacturing process in its San Antonio plant.

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