Allied Air plant in Blackville to be phased out

The latest victim for Barnwell County in the faltering national economy is Allied Air Enterprises in Blackville.

Lennox International, Allied's parent company, announced Feb. 4 that it would be phasing out the Blackville facility within a two-year time period, according to a corporate press release.

Employees were alerted to the plant's future the same day Lennox issued the press release.

"We notified them at the same time," said Ozzie Buckler, the director of Lennox communications and public relations. Buckler was contacted by The People-Sentinel at his Dallas, Texas office.

The first stage of phasing out the plant will not happen until the fourth quarter of this year. The phasing out or closing of the plant will be completed by 2011, Buckler said.

The fourth quarter would be between October and December.

The Blackville plant employs about 350 people and manufactures residential heat pumps and cooling units, Buckler said.

Lennox is consolidating its operations, which is causing the eventual closing, Buckler said.

The slump in the housing market is another factor that caused this decision, he said.

Mark Bauerlin, the human resources manager for the Blackville plant, referred all questions to the Dallas corporate communications office.

The announcement of this latest - eventual - plant closing came as a surprise to people in Barnwell County.

"I had no idea this was going on and apparently no one in the county did either," said Marty Martin, the director of the Barnwell County Economic Development Corp.

"It's news we didn't need, especially behind the other -- and behind the other," he said.

The "others" Martin references are the two plant closings that have already been announced. Milliken and Hanesbrands Inc. will be shutting down their plants by late spring of this year. Combined, the two plants employ about 435 people.

Operations at the Blackville plant will be relocated to Lennox plants in Orangeburg and Saltillo, Mexico, according to the press release.

Buckler said that about 50 "undefined" workers at Blackville will move to other locations. The Orangeburg plant employs about 375 people, of which 330 are hourly workers. That plant makes the same products as the Blackville plant.

The actual facility in Blackville has been there for about 40 years and Lennox has owned the facility since 1999, Buckler said.

The Lennox announcement comes on the heels of a Feb. 2 meeting that Barnwell County governmental, civic and business leaders had concerning how to handle the eventual Milliken and Hanesbrands plant closings and worsening economic conditions in the county. The meeting was coordinated by the Barnwell County United Way.

"I don't know the details but I think we will want to know the details and time frame and see what the impact will be," said Fred Geier, the director of the Barnwell County United Way after learning of the Allied Air announcement.

"Once we see how we respond to Hanesbrands, we can use this method for Allied Air, especially if the time frame isn't right on top of Hanesbrands and Milliken," he said. "We can take what we are doing and refine it to make it more helpful to the Allied people."