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Published: Wednesday, 8/8/2007

Reaction to Ford plant plan mixed; Maumee workers briefed on ownership proposal

BY MARK REITER
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Keith Obey, head of an employee ownership investment plan, explains his proposal for the Maumee stamping factory.
Keith Obey, head of an employee ownership investment plan, explains his proposal for the Maumee stamping factory.
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After hearing details of a proposal to convert Ford Motor Co. s stamping plant in Maumee into an employee-owned company, Chris Baden wasn t ready to invest her future pension money in the plan.

There are still many questions that need to be answered, said Mrs. Basden, a forklift operator for 12 years at the soon-to-be-closed factory on Illinois Avenue. Until those questions are answered, I can t make a decision. It is a risk, no matter what you do.

She was among about 250 attendees at the first of three informational sessions yesterday on an employee ownership investment plan headed by Keith Obey, a former employee of the plant.

The proposal calls for at least 300 employees to contribute a total of $5 million as part of an offer to Ford to buy the plant, equipment, and land.

Among specifics spelled out at the meeting is that each employee investor would put at least $16,000 into the project.
Among specifics spelled out at the meeting is that each employee investor would put at least $16,000 into the project.
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The employees each would invest at least $16,000 and would be entitled to share in profits from the operation, which would continue as a stamping facility. The investors would have to work at the factory.

The meetings at the Fraternal Order of Eagles in Maumee were the first of a series that Mr. Obey plans.

The employee investment would go directly to Ford as a small part of the money needed for the purchase, he said.

He announced his plan last month and said he has a purchase agreement with Ford. He hopes to close the deal in November.

The plant, which provided as many as 700 hourly jobs a few years ago, is scheduled to be shuttered by Ford in mid-September. Employees said fewer than 200 workers are left there.

The purchase price, which includes the 803,000-square-foot plant, 70 acres, and equipment, must remain a secret under the deal made with Ford, Mr. Obey told the group.

Kiel Kiel
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We think we have a reasonable price with Ford, said Stephen Kiel, an official with Hudson Consulting Group, a Cleveland financial consulting group assisting Mr. Obey in the project.

The group was told that interviews would be held for those who want to work and invest in the plant, and that employment would be offered to current and former employees as well as those who are not employed at the factory.

A pay range of $18 to $23 an hour was suggested.

The stamping plant now supplies bumpers, body panels, and other parts for Ford vehicles, but Mr. Obey said an employee-operated plant would eventually expand outside the auto industry to supply other manufacturing, including appliances.

Mr. Kiel said the business plan involves securing financing for the rest of the purchase through National City Bank.

Logue Logue
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John Logue, director of the Ohio Employee Ownership Center at Kent State University, told the group that employee ownership plans are often used to avoid shutting down a business.

Employee ownership is something that is not brand new, and it is something that is not untried, he said. If you own the company, it is no surprise that it runs better.

Ron Coates, a 31-year employee of the factory, said he believes the concept of employees owning the plant is a good idea and could keep the plant open.

If you can get people to put in their money, the plan will work, he said.

A big part of the investment will be getting people who want to do the work. This plant is different from other plants because the employees do what it takes to get the job done.

Karl Kurtz, a 30-year hourly employee who retired this year, said investing the money he obtained in a buyout and going back to work would be a gamble. There are no guarantees, he said.

Contact Mark Reiter at: markreiter@theblade.com or 419-724-6096.



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