December 23, 2013

Waterville Window Company layoffs could be short-term

The Winslow window manufacturer said Monday that despite recent layoffs a spring expansion is planned that could bring jobs back.

By Rachel Ohm rohm@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WINSLOW — A local construction materials manufacturer has laid off eight of its 21 employees, although a company official said a spring expansion is planned that could bring back jobs.

A decline in window sales at Waterville Window Company Inc. prompted the decision, although the company plans to expand its vinyl and fencing production, potentially adding more jobs in the spring, said company President Donald J. Shirley on Monday.

“I plan on expanding the business to be three times bigger than what it was. It’s a positive thing,” said Shirley. Window and glass door manufacturing have stopped since the layoffs went into effect on Thursday, he said. He estimates that the spring expansion of vinyl production will bring sales from about $750,000 to more than $2 million annually.

The company has lost more than $1.5 million in window sales over the last three years, according to Shirley. Total sales for the company, which also manufactures aluminum products, sliding doors and vinyl railings, decking, furniture and fencing, were $2.3 million last year, he said.

Because of the seasonal nature of home construction, the company in the past had seasonal layoffs, said Shirley.

“It really, really slows down. The last four to five years we’ve had no business from December through February. It’s very expensive to pay people all winter long when there’s no income,” he said.

Steve Parker, 63, one of the eight employees to get a layoff notice, said he has worked at the company for 19 years. He said employees had no notice the layoffs were coming.

“They laid off half the crew and told us they wouldn’t be calling us back,” said Parker, who spent most of the day on Monday looking for a new job.

“Most of what I know how to do is related to the construction field. Nobody is hiring in the middle of the winter,” he said.

“It’s terrible. My husband has been there for 20 years and he’s 63 years old. Where is he going to go?” said Parker’s wife, Linda Lauria, 62. “We have payments we have to make. It’s extremely difficult and comes at a very bad time.”

Shirley would not comment on whether notice had been given. In the past, the company has taken different approaches to lack of business in the winter.

In a 2007, Shirley was quoted in a Morning Sentinel article as saying he saw stability as more important than short-term labor savings associated with seasonal layoffs every year.

Last year, instead of laying employees off, the company reduced hours, but employees said that they could make more money on unemployment than they could working 32 hours a week, he said.

Since last week’s layoffs, the company now has 13 employees, but the expansion could add 12 to 14 jobs in the spring, said Shirley.

“The layoffs are the layoffs. I can’t afford to carry employees in this business year-round,” said Shirley. “We’re always looking to build more stuff. If anybody can come up with an idea for something I can manufacture year round, I’d be glad to listen to them.”

Instead of building new homes, Shirley said he believes more people are buying and fixing up old homes, which would increase demand for vinyl and fencing.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of new privately owned homes that construction starts on each year is declining. In the northeast, the number of new homes being built has declined from 158,400 in 2002 to 79,700 in 2012.

At Ever-Green Auto Glass, Door & Window Repair in Charlotte, owner Dan McDonald said the supply market for windows is very competitive but he has always thought of the Waterville Window Company’s windows as being a high quality product. McDonald sells the windows to contractors and also uses them for repairs and home construction, mostly in Washington County.

“It’s discouraging. They were a quality product that people like to use,” he said.

Waterville Window was founded in 1953 and bought by Shirley in 1998, according to Sentinel archives. Workers manufactured aluminum windows and began production of vinyl windows in 1983, said Shirley.

In 2007 the company underwent a 10,000 square foot addition to the building to begin the manufacture of vinyl railing and fencing.

One of its largest distributors is Lowe’s Home Improvement, which Shirley said has committed to buying additional vinyl products that would be manufactured under the expansion.

“I put my heart and soul into this place and I really do care about all of my employees. They’re like family to me and it’s one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to made to let those people go,” he said on Monday.

Rachel Ohm— 612-2368rohm@centralmaine.com
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