Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Amid clouds, some brightness: Jeep suffers slowdown as solar firms grow

THIS YEAR produced a perfect storm for the business world nationally.

Everything hit the financial markets in rapid succession: the subprime-mortgage mess, a credit crisis, a Wall Street crash, the worst bear market in years, the first recession in seven years, plummeting auto sales, the slowest retail sales in a generation, high unemployment, and declining home sales and housing prices.

It was also a year of really big figures, when investors lost trillions of dollars in the stock market, when Congress voted for a trillion dollars to boost the economy, including a "bailout" of $700 billion for the financial industry and $168 billion to taxpayers.

Stocks started the year near last year's peak and then lost about 50 percent of their value. The Dow Jones industrial average lost more than 700 points in one trading session and nearly 700 points on two other occasions in October, but then gained 936 points one day and nearly 900 another.

The year had plusses and minuses in the Toledo area.

Toledo's evolution from a traditional "glass capital" into a center for solar glass continued this year. First Solar Inc. broke ground on a 500,000-square-foot addition to its Perrysburg Township plant that will add 135 jobs to the 700-person work force. Toledo's Xunlight Corp. attracted $40 million in new investment in a year and a half, including $22.3 million from venture capitalists in April alone.

In addition, Willard & Kelsey Solar Group LLC got $5 million in state financing toward its $13.5 million project to create 400 jobs in Perrysburg.

Despite a not-so-sunny Christmas season in retailing locally, the industry had some bright spots this year. A 150,000-square-foot Bass Pro Shop opened in Rossford, employing more than 250. And a 50,000-square-foot addition to Westfield Franklin Park Mall in Toledo opened.

But Southwyck Shopping Center, one of metro Toledo's three enclosed malls, closed after nearly 36 years of operation.

Among the area's corporate giants, Dana Holding Corp. emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy early in the year, later announced it would close 10 plants and cut 5,000 of its 35,000 jobs (including about 100 in the Toledo area), and said it was selling its 38-year-old headquarters facility on a 160-acre campus on Dorr Street.

That facility soon will become headquarters for Health Care REIT Inc., a real-estate investment trust now in downtown Toledo. Dana's 175 headquarters staff will move to its technical center in Maumee.

Toledo's largest firm also announced it is adding a satellite office near Detroit Metro Airport and is to change leadership Jan. 1, with John Devine to be executive chairman and Gary Convis, who took over as chief executive from Mike Burns, to become vice chairman.

The area's automotive firms and factories were in the midst of a storm that resulted in car and truck sales plunging, forcing Detroit's Big Three automakers to seek a federal bailout.

After tumultuous congressional hearings, General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC got a lifeline of $13.4 billion from President Bush, and Ford Motor Co. is a candidate for standby financing if needed.

By late December, about 5,000 workers at local plants, including GM's Toledo Powertrain transmission plant and Chrysler's Toledo Jeep Assembly complex and its Toledo Machining Plant in Perrysburg Township, were on extended layoff through at least late January.

Jeep stands to lose about 850 workers because of the elimination of a second shift at one of its assembly plants, and Chrysler is considering phasing out either the Dodge Nitro or Jeep Liberty model assembled locally.

But the area is experiencing a bit of a hotel boom.

Among new facilities are a 184-room Hilton Garden Inn at Levis Commons in Perrysburg, a 184-room Holiday Inn Splash Bay Resort in Maumee that opened in late 2007, an 83-room Fairfield Inn off Benore Road in North Toledo, and two in Rossford - a 98-room Hampton Inn & Suites and an 80-room Country Inn & Suites.

Expansions in the area included a $12.5 million addition under way at Toledo Pepsi-Cola bottling plant, owned by PepsiAmericas Inc.; a $130 million ethanol plant opened by Poet LLC in Fostoria; and construction on a $160 million waste-recycling plant being built near Delta by ZincOx Resources PLC, of Surrey, England.

And new investment apparently has saved several local plants and buildings.

Employees are being trained by Maumee Authority Stamping Inc. for jobs at the former Ford Motor Co. stamping plant after a $1.5 million loan from Lucas County. A newly formed firm, Norwalk Custom Order Furniture LLC, has received state funds to try to save most of the 500 jobs lost when Norwalk Furniture Corp. closed in Norwalk.

Thanks to a $3 million grant from Ohio to remove asbestos from the former Fiberglas Tower in downtown Toledo, the Eyde Co., of East Lansing, Mich., hopes to transform what is now known as the Tower on the Maumee into a $35 million collection of offices, condos, restaurants, and a hotel.

A $30 million incentive package from Toledo and Lucas County kept HCR Manor Care's headquarters in downtown Toledo.

Whirlpool Corp. is moving 400 jobs from Tennessee to its dishwasher plant in Findlay, which will more than replace the 250 laid off there this year. Other big layoffs included 300 at Modine Manufacturing Co. in Pemberville and 200 from Rite Aid Corp.'s Pharm stores in the Toledo area.

As for other notable local events in 2008:

•Libbey Inc. marked 120 years in Toledo, real-estate firm Welles-Bowen 100 years, The Andersons Inc. 60, and Bowling Green's Poggemeyer Design Group 40. Toledo's "glass genius," the late Harold McMaster, was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron.

•Deaths included Patrick Norton, 86, retired chairman of La-Z-Boy Inc.; Steven McCracken, 54, former chairman and CEO of Owens-Illinois Inc.; Samuel Carson, 94, former CEO of the former Toledo Trust Co.; David Welles, Sr., 78, founder of Therma-Tru Corp.

Contact Homer Brickey at:

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