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NO LONGER HOME
SoVaNow.com / January 09, 2013Southside Virginia has lost another large employer as Home Care Industries of La Crosse closed its doors on Jan. 2 and laid off some 100 employees that same day.
The shutdown marks a sudden reversal of fortune for Home Care, which opened for business at the Airport Industrial Park amid much fanfare in late 2011.
On Oct. 26, 2011, Robert Logeman, president and CEO of Home Care Industries, proudly accepted a Virginia state flag from Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Jim Cheung at the opening of his company’s new $1.5 million manufacturing plant located at La Crosse park
“Today is a new and exciting time for us here, for not only are we opening a new facility, we are at a turning point in our company’s 52 year history,” said Logeman at the ribbon cutting ceremony.
Fast forward 14 months later, and 113 workers employed at the Home Care Industries warehouse and distribution center in La Crosse are out of work. They received notice on Jan. 2, the same day the company ceased operations at its plant on Golden Eagle Drive.
Cassandra Jones of South Hill is one of those 113 workers. She had worked for the company since it opened its La Crosse plant, and is disappointed in the way the closing was handled.
Jones said, “Many floor employees had talked about the possibility of it happening. Last August the company took 10 percent of our pay, promising to give it back on Oct. 15. The day came and we were not given our money back, but promised by management we would see it on April 1. Through all of this we were promised we had a job. More recently management officials even said the company had turned a corner financially.”
Jones described how the employees learned of the shutdown: “At about 1 p.m. that afternoon [Jan. 2], employees were informed of a plant-wide employee meeting at 2 p.m. Everyone piled into the break room a few minutes prior to the meeting.” Upon confirmation that all employees were present, the senior vice-president of Operations, Charlie Hoover, read a letter from Robert Logeman.
“The letter stated Bob (Robert) was resigning from his position as of January 2, 2013. Charlie then informed us that it was his last day. Then the bombshell news of Home Care Industries is ceasing all operations effective Jan. 2, 2013. Within five minutes of the meeting starting, we did not have a job. Most employees were crying,” stated Jones.
Christine Watson, Home Care’s Vice President for Human Resources, when contacted, said she was precluded from answering any questions about the closure and directed callers to Peter Sullivan. She would not comment on whether the displaced workers would receive their retirement benefits, a severance package, or COBRA coverage.
Watson said Sullivan was in charge of restructuring. Sullivan did not answer his phone or return calls made by The Sun.
Jones said many workers — she being one of them — were owed previously promised bonus. As of Jan. 2, these were not paid out, and it is unknown if the employees will ever receive this money.
La Crosse Mayor Will Woodall said he learned of the closing through a letter he received from the company on Jan. 3, the day after the plant shut down. He added that town clerk Tina Evans heard it on the street that same day, but no one from the company spoke with him.
The letter, which Woodall was referring to, was sent by the company under a federal law that, except in certain limited circumstances, obligates large companies like Home Care Industries to notify its employees, the State of Virginia and the leading public official of the political subdivision where the company pays the most taxes of its impending closure. Generally, the notice must be issued no less than 60 days before the closure.
A faltering company is not required, under the law, to provide the full 60-day notice before closing its plant if it was “actively seeking capital or business, which if obtained would avoid or postpone the layoff or closure, and if it reasonably believes that advance notice would hurt its ability to find the capital or business it needs to continue operating.”
Watson invoked that exception on behalf of Home Care Industries in her Jan. 2 letter to Woodall and Virginia. Watson wrote, “For the last several months, the Company has been actively seeking new capital from a number of potential investors and lenders. We believed there was a realistic opportunity to raise enough new capital to maintain the company’s business operations and to avoid the termination of its employees. We further believe that providing this notice earlier would have precluded the Company from obtaining the needed new capital. Regrettably, the Company was informed earlier this week from its potential investors that new capital would not be provided. The lack of new capital has forced us to cease operations immediately.”
Felicia McClenny, who heads the state office to which notices must be sent, said, “I’ve been at this a long time, and I can’t recall another instance where a company has used that exception to avoid delivering a WARN notice inside the 60 days [the letter required by federal law]. I didn’t receive the letter until Friday, Jan. 4. It came in the mail.”
Once her office learned of the closing, she contacted her “Rapid Response Team.” To the extent they can find Home Care Industries’ employees, the Rapid Response Team will set up employee briefings to provide information on local workforce system services, unemployment insurance benefits, employment and training activities, and other services or programs needed to meet the needs of the displaced employees.
The exact time and place of the Rapid Response meeting is not yet set. McClenny said she would place a notice in the local papers and use every avenue available to get word out about the meeting.
This is not the first time Home Care Industries closed down this particular operation and moved its plant with little to no advance notice. In 2011, it closed its Clifton, New Jersey factory and laid off 115 workers, seven months after receiving $1.3 million in incentives to move into the La Crosse facility. The company had operated in Clifton since 1989.
In a May 17 story from The Record, a New Jersey newspaper covering the Clifton area, staff writer Hugh Morely wrote that “ Clifton and Passaic County officials said they met with a Home Care Industries’ executive and a state official about a year [before their departure from Clifton] to discuss how to help the company.” He also quoted a spokesperson for New Jersey Governor Christie’s economic development czar, saying, “she ‘talked to CEO Robert J. Logeman in October  about the company’s difficulties. Although New Jersey officials knew about the expansion in Virginia, Logeman made no mention that New Jersey jobs were in danger. Until today [May 17, 2011] there was really no indication that this company was at risk of leaving.’”
South Hill Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Frank Malone was both surprised and dismayed by the closing. “I hate to see anything that takes away jobs from the hardworking people of this area, but I guess there is no easy way to close a plant,” said Malone/
The only good news that comes from the closing, as far as Mayor Woodall is concerned, is that the closing will not significantly affect La Crosse’s revenue stream. “We only provided water and sewer and it wasn’t that much. We took in less than $200 per month from them.”
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