Johnson sells production line at Harford facility, to idle 100


Johnson Controls Inc., a seat-supplier to General Motors Corp.'s Southeast Baltimore assembly plant, sold a production line at its Belcamp facility in Harford County and plans to lay off 100 workers - about two-thirds of its work force - beginning next month.

But Johnson will keep open another production line at the plant - with 50 remaining workers - that makes seats for the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans made at the Broening Highway plant, a company spokeswoman said yesterday.

Johnson's Debra Lacey said the Milwaukee, Wis.-based company sold the Belcamp foam production line to the Woodbridge Foam Corp., a Canadian-based automobile seat manufacturer, for an undisclosed amount. The line made foam for use in seats constructed at the Belcamp plant and also supplied foam to other Johnson seat-making facilities on the East Coast, Lacey said.

Woodbridge, whose acquisition included the plant's foam production equipment, will not operate out of the Belcamp plant, Lacey said. It was unclear yesterday where Woodbridge would take the acquired production capacity. Woodbridge officials could not be reached for comment.

Lacey said the decision to sell the foam production line was a consolidation move for the company, and was not related to declining automobile production at GM's Baltimore plant.

Johnson, which had net income of $600 million on revenue of $20.1 billion last year, is a major seating and interior systems supplier to the automobile industry. The company has operated the 106,000-square-foot Belcamp plant since 1984, Lacey said.

"We're just consolidating our manufacturing footprint and outsourcing the foam operations at that facility," Lacey said. She said the Belcamp seat-making operation will now buy the foam it uses for seats from Woodbridge.

Layoffs at the plant will occur in two phases, with the first beginning next month and the other at an unspecified time later in the year, Lacey said. She did not have an estimate of salaries for affected workers.

Rod Lache, an automobile industry analyst with Deutsche Bank in New York, said auto parts companies such as Johnson regularly look to streamline operations.

"These companies in the auto parts industry are under an intense amount of pressure to cut costs," Lache said. "It's an intensely competitive market."

The foam line's sale at Belcamp will leave an undetermined amount of space vacant at the facility, Lacey said. She declined to discuss the company's plans for the space.

J. Thomas Sadowski, director of Harford County's Office of Economic Development, said he was aware of the planned layoffs at the plant.

"We're working with area employers who have expressed a great deal of interest in the folks that are scheduled to be laid off," Sadowski said. "We're very hopeful those folks can find other employment in the community very, very soon."

"As a county, we've maintained a very low unemployment rate the past four years, between 3.5 and 4 percent," Sadowski added. "We're very confident that we can help these folks find employment in this community."

The Johnson layoffs come after an otherwise steady period of growth in jobs in Harford County over the past four years, according to Sadowski.

Private-sector employment has grown more than 20 percent since 1998 - from 46,183 to 55,520 workers last year - and a number of those new jobs have been in the manufacturing industries, he said.

In October, automotive component manufacturer Collins & Aikman Corp. announced that it would expand its Havre de Grace facility and add 100 jobs, boosting total employment to 300.

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