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Published: Monday, 7/21/2008

Norwalk's largest manufacturer shuts today, idling more than 500 workers

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

NORWALK, Ohio Norwalk Furniture Corp., the city s largest manufacturer and its second-biggest employer, suspended operations at its local facility today, idling more than 500 workers.

In a weekend statement, the privately-held company blamed the suspension of operations at its plant in Norwalk and another in Tennessee on a slowing economy and changes in the furniture industry. Norwalk Furntiure s sales dropped $8 million from 2006 to 2007.

The company told its local employees that they were not to report to work on today, and referred any questions to its human resources department.

Company officials could not be reached for comment this morning.

Norwalk Mayor Sue Lesch said the northwest Ohio city is working with the furniture company in hopes of getting its facility operating again.

I hope this is temporary, Ms. Lesch said. They ve faced a lot of challenging economic times over the years and they re trying to get things back together and get people back to work.

The furniture industry nationally has suffered from the weakened economy and the housing slump. Even giant La-Z-Boy Inc. in Monroe, Mich., reported last month a $13.5 million financial loss on sales of $1.45 billion for its latest fiscal year. Its sales plunged 10 percent.

Founded in 1902 by German-born Edward Gerken, Norwalk Furniture moved to Norwalk in 1919. Its products are sold both through a chain of franchise stores under the name Norwalk The Furniture Idea and by hundreds of independent retailers.

The company s announcement surprised Gary Steinbeck, the sub-regional director for the United Steel Workers, which represents about half of the workers at Norwalk Furniture s facility. He said he wanted to talk to local leadership before commenting on the notice.

The closing will hit Norwalk hard. Unemployment in Huron County was the highest in northwest Ohio in May, at 7.3 percent. June figures will be released Tuesday. According to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, which tracks unemployment in the state, more than 2,100 workers were actively seeking jobs in May.

It s tough times in Ohio, Ms. Lesch said. These are good jobs. The kind that are hard to replace. They re a good company and a good family. I m hopeful that they re able to pull this out, but I m an optimistic person.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at: lvellequette@theblade.comor 419-724-6091.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com



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