A long-time local employer is leaving Norwich, but its Phoebe St. facility won’t sit idle.
SAF-Holland is selling its AerWay line to Salford Group, another Oxford company, which will also take over the building.
“This is truly an exciting opportunity for the AerWay product line, and many of the employees that help build AerWay,” said SAF-Holland Canada president Kim Baechler in a media release.
Though the announcement, which was delivered to employees about two weeks ago, was a bit of a shock initially, one worker said it wasn’t all that surprising.
“We could see it coming,” said Bob Carpenter, an employee with the company for 22 years.
“That Norwich plant, the Holland plant, has been there for years. When I started there we had two or three shifts going. There was like 150 or 160 people. Now we’re down to like 24, maybe, on the floor.”
SAF-Holland, which also has a plant in Woodstock, manufactures equipment for tractor-trailers, as well as other parts of the transportation and agricultural industries.
Anson Boak, media relations for Salford Group, said the acquisition would also see the company hire many of the people who worked with Aerway under SAF-Holland.
“There will be employees from SAF-Holland that are coming along with the acquisition of AerWay… including a good number of the production staff, some of the customer service and sales management positions as well,” he said.
The AerWay product line is a good fit for Salford Group, which specializes in farm equipment for tilling, seeding and fertilizer application.
“We are very pleased to bring AerWay products under the Salford tillage umbrella,” said Geof Gray, Salford Group CEO, in a media release.
“Both companies… create tools with multi-use capabilities and emphasize soil productivity and management,” he said.
SAF-Holland hasn’t been immune to the battering of the manufacturing sector in southwestern Ontario over the past few years.
Carpenter said the Norwich plant has seen a number of cutbacks.
“First we lost the fifth wheel line. They moved that to Woodstock. The next year, they took out our truck body line,” he said.
Then, about a year ago, the company announced it was cutting the production of tuck away tailgates for trucks, Carpenter said.
And all through the production cuts, workers were losing their jobs.
“It was like a cancer, just slowing growing on the place,” he said.
The good news is that Carpenter and a number of co-workers – many of whom have worked at the plant for decades, some as long as 32 and 33 years, he said – were offered positions with Salford Group.
Anson said between 10 and 20 employees would be joining the company to continue work with AerWay products.
“Some of the guys jumped at it, and joined up,” Carpenter said, though he turned down a position welding because he is getting older and wants to work fewer hours.
Many weren’t happy about the new positions, according to Carpenter.
“The pay is not the same. The hours are longer, and the benefits – there’s hardly any benefits. Just stuff like that. They took everybody’s seniority away, you get two weeks holidays,” he said.
Carpenter was offered a position welding for Salford Group, but decided to turn it down.
“I’m getting older, I want to work less hours,” he said.
That may be the case for several employees, according to Boak.
“I know of at least one if not a couple folks who have chosen to retire after having a pretty long and prosperous career with AerWay.”