The former Sunbury Textile Mill will close its production facility in August due to the economic impact of COVID-19, costing 101 employees their jobs.
David Swers, president and COO of Custom Fabrics an executive vice president of Glen Raven, which operates the Sunbury facility, made the announcement Thursday morning. Swers also said a number of positions in the company's North Carolina headquarters will also be eliminated.
Employees at the plant Thursday chose to not comment but said they were not made aware in the days leading up to the announcement.
"After a thorough analysis of the market and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, our company and our global manufacturing footprint, this difficult decision was made to streamline operations and support the long term position of the company," he said in a release Thursday morning.
Swers said 102 employees are working at the facility but a WARN notice posted on the Department of Labor and Industry's website on Thursday announcing the closure, states the closing will impact 101 employees, official on Aug. 4. A WARN notice is part of federal legislation that offers protection to workers, their families and communities by requiring employers to provide notice 60 days in advance of a covered-business closing and covered-business mass layoff.
"These are difficult decisions and not taken lightly," Swers told The Daily Item Thursday. "We have a great, dedicated team of hard-working employees and we appreciate their contributions over the years."
Swers said the company offered additional benefits to employees, which will go into effect once the plant closes. "Until that time, they remain active employees of Glen Raven with full benefits, regardless of hours worked each week," he said.
Swers said COVID-19 disrupted the home furnishings and contract fabric industry.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant and enduring impact on the global economy, impacting many of our markets and partners," he said. "More specifically, the disruption in the home furnishings and contract fabric industries has led to reduced demand for Glen Raven's upholstery fabrics."
Sunbury Mayor Kurt Karlovich said he was made aware Thursday by the company they would be shutting its doors.
"I am both shocked and saddened to learn of the imminent closing of the Sunbury Textile Mill, a business which has always stood the test of time as a strong standard of employment for citizens of the Sunbury community over a period spanning 65 years," he said. "It is my intention for the city to assist the current owners' search for a new tenant for the Textile Mills property."
Glen Raven Inc., is a provider of performance fabrics, with product sales in more than 120 countries worldwide, according to officials.
After purchasing the mill in 2017, Glen Ravel officials said they had long-term plans to expand employment and operations at the plant.
The business, located at 1150 Walnut St. Extension, has been operating in Sunbury for 66 years. For the last 20 years, the Sunbury facility has been exclusively licensed to produce Glen Raven's Sunbrella fabrics for outdoor/indoor furniture markets.
Karlovich said he wants to move right away on attempting to find someone who is interested in the property if Glenn Raven decides to sell it.
"We will look into offering incentives which will entice some new business to grab the opportunity to offer employment to the hardworking citizens of Sunbury and the surrounding area," Karlovich said. "Quite simply, we cannot afford to lose any business currently operating within the city, let alone a large employer such as the mill. I do thank the mill for reaching out to my office regarding the closure announcement. COVID-19 has affected so many businesses small and large. I will see that the city offers any available transitional help to current mill employees."
Sunbury Textile Mills is located at the former Susquehanna Silk Mill, which operated from 1896 to 1952. Founded in 1954, the current facility specializes in innovative decorative upholstery fabrics targeting the design community and luxury furniture manufacturers, for both residential and contract applications for the hospitality, restaurant and health care industries, according to a press release.
The 400,000-square-foot facility operates on 65 acres of land in Sunbury with half of that space dedicated to manufacturing.
The news represents another significant job loss for the city. In December, UPMC Susquehanna Sunbury, formerly the Sunbury Community Hosptial, announced its closure, costing 153 workers their jobs.
Elected officials caught off guard
State Rep. Lynda Culver, R-108, of Sunbury, said she not been notified of the closing.
"I was just as surprised as everyone else," she said. "I routinely will reach out to the governor's office to ask the action team to come in and check with business and I asked them to check into this business not long ago. The team was unable to make a connection with the owners. We are here to help but if we don't know what is going on it makes it tough."
Culver said she will do all she can to help employees.
"The governor's Action Team is now aware and this is very early on right now so we will see what we have to do for the employees."
City Councilman Chris Reis said COVID-19 has put a strain on everyone.
"It's never a good feeling to see a business have to close," he said. "This pandemic has put a strain on businesses across the country and now it is unfortunate to see something that has been part of Sunbury for so long have to close. I especially feel for the employees losing their jobs."
"We as a city need to come together and work to get something there as quickly as possible," Councilman Jim Eister said. "I feel for all the employees and their families."
Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way President and CEO Joanne Troutman said the city continues to get "beaten up."
"It just feels like it's one thing after another," she said. "We are in conversations with the city of Sunbury and chamber of commerce to kind of figure out what to do to respond."
Troutman said there are programs being funded due to COVID-19.
"If there is any good news, the company cited the reason for closure due to COVID-19, so there should be a lot more services to the employees," she said.
"The city keeps getting beaten up with COVID-19, the closing of the hospital and now this. It feels like 'when is it all going to end?' There are a lot of us at the table for whom Sunbury is a special place and we will do what we can to make the city thrive."
City Councilman Josh Brosious said he was shocked to learn the news Thursday.
"My heart goes out to all the employees during these difficult times," he said. "The city needs to work quickly on getting some other type of business into that location. City officials will need to work with county and state officials to promote this location as the city can't afford to wait for someone to come to us."
U.S. Rep. Fred Keller said he is working with local leaders to help employees.
“COVID-19 has taken an unprecedented toll on lives and livelihoods in Pennsylvania and across the country, and it is unfortunate to learn that it has now impacted Sunbury Textile Mill here in our community," he said. "We are working with officials at the local and state level as well as the chamber to ensure everyone gets the help and support they need.”
The closing of the plant will cost the city nearly $10,000 in tax revenue, Sunbury City Treasurer Kevin Troup said. Between the hospital and the textile plant the city is losing about $20,000 in revenue, Troup said.
"It is a loss to the city without a doubt," Troup said. "It's not the point of losing the revenue, it's the point of losing the industry. I had family members who worked there. It's just another sad day for us in Sunbury."
Culver said as a resident of Sunbury, she is also saddened.
"It's heartbreaking because I remember as a little girl riding my bike past the plant," she said. "It was in full swing with employees packing the parking lots. I remember I toured a business in Pittsburgh and on one of the sofas was a Sunbury Textile Mill logo and it just gave me such great pride for our community."