Business

GE to close Avon plant, cut 300 jobs

GE acquired the Avon plant in its purchase of Dresser Inc. in 2011.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

GE acquired the Avon plant in its purchase of Dresser Inc. in 2011.

General Electric will eliminate more than 300 jobs by closing its valve factory in Avon and moving that work to Florida, even as the industrial giant adds hundreds of white-collar positions in Massachusetts.

The layoffs will take place in waves until the plant closes in mid-2016, with the first round starting within two weeks.

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“For a lot of guys, it’s hard,” said Jonathan Wright, a 40-year-old Mansfield resident who is a stock clerk at the facility, which makes valves for pipeline companies and others. “This was their career. They looked at it that they were going to retire on their own terms. Now they’re being forced to retire, essentially.”

GE’s plant closure comes amid job growth in other business lines as the Fairfield, Conn.-based conglomerate seeks to take advantage of the state’s high-tech brainpower. GE Healthcare moved its US headquarters this year to Marlborough, where it could eventually employ at least 500 people.

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Meanwhile, the company has just unveiled plans to base a new division called Current — combining some of its lighting and energy businesses — in Greater Boston.

And GE is weighing new locations for its headquarters, leaving some hopeful that those top-level corporate jobs could come here, as well.

The company’s relationship with Massachusetts underscores the state’s economic opportunities and challenges: High-tech workers such as software programmers and scientists are in high demand, but many in traditional manufacturing plants continue to worry their jobs will be shipped to places where it is less expensive to do business.

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Manufacturing jobs in Massachusetts have stabilized to some extent after decades of decline, declining just 0.2 percent in the past year. But the professional, scientific, and business services sector — a category that represents much of GE’s expansion here — has grown by more than 4 percent over the same time.

“It’s sort of a sign of the times,” Michael Goodman, a public policy professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, said of the Avon plant closing. “It sounds like the story of the last couple of decades of the Massachusetts economy: the retrenchment in the traditional blue-collar production opportunities and significant growth in the area that’s much more reliant on . . . highly educated workers — research and technology.”

GE spokeswoman MB Hodgkiss said the company told its Avon workers in January that it would transfer its operations from Avon and Pineville, La., to a new plant in Jacksonville, Fla. — a factory built with the help of $15.4 million in city and state incentives. Some affected employees will have opportunities in Jacksonville, Hodgkiss said, while others could transfer to roles elsewhere within GE’s organization.

A number of the managerial and engineering jobs at the plant will move to a GE office in Randolph, and the Avon property will be put on the market, Hodgkiss said. The company acquired the Avon plant, which makes Masoneilan-brand valves, through its purchase of Dresser Inc. in 2011.

Hodgkiss declined to say how many people work at the plant today or how many would lose their jobs. But Colleen Quinn, a spokeswoman for the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, said her agency has been told that 310 workers at the plant will be losing their jobs through June. GE has not yet filed an official notification, known as a WARN notice, with the agency.

Quinn said the agency’s “rapid reponse” staff visited the plant Oct. 26, and teams will return at least five times to give onsite assistance to displaced employees.

Workers like Heather Finni are wondering what they’re going to do next. Finni said she’s not sure when she’ll be cut from the shipping department’s staff. The Bridgewater resident knows only that she’s not part of the first round of layoffs.

‘It’s sort of a sign of the times . . . the story of the last couple of decades of the Mass. economy.’

Michael Goodman, a UMass Dartmouth professor 
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“They’re just ripping it apart, piece by piece,” Finni said.

Henry Pires, president of United Auto Workers, Local 470, which represents at least 130 workers there, said the closing could be devastating to most of his members. Many, he said, are in their late 50s — too young to retire but too old to easily find another job.

There also will be a ripple effect on the local economy, Pires said, as nearby machine shops lose the work the GE plant used to send them.

Among those is AccuRounds, a metal parts manufacturer across the street from GE’s plant in Avon. CEO Michael Tamasi said he’s hoping to continue to ship AccuRounds’ valve parts to Florida, once the GE operation moves there. “It’s concerning [but] we haven’t lost anything yet,” Tamasi said. “It’s always nice to have a customer across the street, of course.”

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.
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