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Thompson - Center Arms plant to close


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ROCHESTER — One of Rochester's "bedrock industries" will be moving out within the next year.

Firearms manufacturer Thompson/Center Arms has announced it will be relocating its North Main Street operations to Springfield, Mass., home of its parent company, Smith & Wesson Holding Corp. The decision affects about 350 employees at the Rochester plant.

Smith & Wesson on Wednesday released their second quarter financial results for fiscal year 2011, in which it announced the relocation of the Rochester facility. In the report, President and CEO Michael Golden said the relocation is designed "to streamline our firearms manufacturing processes and improve our margins."

Smith & Wesson Director of Marketing Services Paul Pluff confirmed the company told employees of the decision on Wednesday. Employees were bused to a meeting at the Governor's Inn Restaurant at around 4 p.m., and company representatives said the Thompson/Center Arms facility would be closed over a period of about nine months.

Pluff said there will be meetings with employees to discuss severance issues and the possible relocation of some local workers to Springfield. Employees have also been told the company was continuing to look for a buyer for the foundry at the Rochester facility.

The relocation is scheduled to commence in January 2011 and conclude by November 2011.

"We needed to streamline in order to make our company more efficient and profitable," Pluff said, noting the size of the Springfield facility as part of the reason for relocation. "We are not going to bring the foundry operation to Springfield. We'll try to sell that to another company."

"We continue to be 100 percent behind the Thompson/Center brand," said Mark Smith, Smith & Wesson's vice president of operations.

Human Resources Vice President Bill Lachenmeyer said the company wants to "transfer knowledge" as much as possible from the Rochester plant to Springfield and wants to make the transition as smooth as possible for employees who will relocate.

Site Director of Operations Tyler Stone said he's proud of the people who work on the campus and how they've handled the news.

"I'm proud of the way they've built product here on this campus," he said. "We're going to ensure this is a smooth transition. Although they're sad, there's a long legacy here. It's a stand-up crowd. These are good New Hampshire and New England people that will do the right thing."

Lachenmeyer noted profitability for the company peaked around three years ago when Smith & Wesson purchased Thompson/Center Arms, and the economic downturn has hit them very hard. He said the purchase was a "logical extension" into a brand of firearms — hunting rifles — they'd never been in. It was never the company's intention to eventually close the Rochester facility, but circumstances dictated the company to do so, Pluff said.

The immediate reaction from city officials was one of sadness for the loss of what City Councilor Chuck Grassie called one of the "bedrock industries" in the Lilac City.

"The City is saddened by the loss of a major manufacturer" that's made top-quality hunting products for years, Rochester Economic Development Director Karen Pollard said. "We are concerned about the talented employees and their families affected by the move, and will coordinate with the State of New Hampshire and Smith & Wesson in every effort to identify new local employment opportunities and to provide the full amount of support during that process."

Mayor T.J. Jean said Thompson/Center Arms has always been a "key business" in Rochester and for many years local youths interested in the machine tool trade would look forward to careers there.

"My heart goes out to all the community members affected by this," he said. "We want to make sure we can provide assistance, through state or local aid, to any residents in need."

Jean doesn't feel the decision was made because of the business climate specifically in Rochester but was instead a corporate one by Smith & Wesson because of the overall economy.

"This shows we aren't out of the most difficult part of this economic downturn yet," Jean said.

City Councilor Dave Walker, a former mayor whose ward includes Thompson/Center Arms, said he was "very disappointed" to hear of the business' plan to leave Rochester.

"This is very, very hard for the city and the employees, especially this time of year," Walker said.

Grassie expressed fears that potential aid for newly unemployed individuals could be drying up at both the county and state level and said he hoped the state's job retraining program could be of use to those who lose their jobs due to this relocation.

"The need is disappearing for the skills these folks have," Grassie said. "Unfortunately it's all going overseas."

The Rochester facility is used primarily to produce hunting rifles, black powder firearms, interchangeable firearm systems and long gun barrels.

According to Thompson/Center's Web site, the company started in 1965 when K.W. Thompson Tool was looking for a product to build and gun designer Warren Center wanted a company to make his Contender pistol. Thompson/Center Arms was born, and the company became part of Smith & Wesson in 2007.

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Nah, thats just the freedom group (Cerberus) doing the same thing they are doing to Bushmaster and Marlin. I suspect the sales of traditional rifles are on the decline more than everything else. Why hunt with a Remington 700 when you can get an Remington R-30. The younger generation despises wood on a firearm.


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