Simplicity, United Fixtures to close doors here; 237 jobs lost

Published 12:22 pm Monday, June 25, 2007

By By JAN GRIFFEY / Niles Daily Star
NILES – Two Niles companies plan to close plants here, costing a total of about 237 jobs.
Since 1931, every Simplicity Pattern sold has been manufactured in Niles.
That will change by the end of September, when Simplicity plans to end all production and distribution operations at its Niles facility, outsourcing the work to a company in Wisconsin.
That move should cost about 90 Niles jobs. The plant at one time employed thousands here.
In a second blow, United Fixtures told its employees Friday it will end operations at its Third Street plant in Niles by Aug. 20. Hourly and salaried workers will lose their jobs.
That company also operates administrative offices and a distribution center in South Bend, Ind., and a facility on Howard Street, which it said will remain in operation.
"We intend to try to ease this difficult transition for our associates and to assist everyone in receiving all of the unemployment insurance and other transition assistance to which they may be entitled," said Dan Wilson, president and CEO of United Fixtures Interlake, in a press release issued this morning.
Sharon Tyler, executive director of the Southwestern Michigan Economic Growth Alliance, said United Fixtures employs about 147 at its Third Street facility.
"The state, myself, the city – all have been aware of the problems at Simplicity," Tyler said. "We went in as a team, trying to find any solutions, trying to retain jobs there."
Tyler said a change in lifestyle today has meant a steep downturn in business for Simplicity.
"Their market has kind of disappeared. Who sews anymore? If we want something, we buy it ready made. Their market has kind of disappeared. They are losing their customer base," she said. "Years ago, there were so many more fabric shops. Today, people are more into quilting and crafting. Times have changed."
Tyler said Simplicity officials have been very concerned about how the move would impact its Niles workers and have been working to help workers secure other employment before the facility closes.
She said a number of programs through the State of Michigan will help re-train employees and provide help in finding jobs.
Simplicity officials have set a three-month timeline for ending production and distribution operations in Niles. Officials there said they are working with collective bargaining units to develop fair transition programs for all workers impacted, including a program with Southwestern Michigan College for potential reemployment assistance.
Tyler said her agency received no advance warning about the United Fixtures Niles plant closing.
"That one was a surprise to me. I was just there with the state and county on March 5. We were aware they had a recent layoff, but even then they told us they would be bringing them back in six to eight weeks," she said. However, the silver lining in the United Fixtures announcement is the coming availability of its facility.
"That building is very marketable. We shouldn't have a problem filling it," she said.
United Fixtures makes shelving and store fixtures for companies like Home Depot, Meijer and Wal-Mart.
Simplicity was founded in New York City in 1927 and began manufacturing its patterns in Niles in 1931.
Today, the company's production, distribution, administration, customer service and customer relations, accounting, billing, credit and information systems all operate out of its 740,000 square foot facility in Niles.
Simplicity is headquartered in New York, where it houses its executive management team, sales and marketing and product design employees in 42,000 square feet of leased office space.
Simplicity has retained CB Richard Ellis to market its Niles property for sale.
"Anytime we have a loss, we feel very sad for those families. Other companies are growing here and those are trained workers.
"Hopefully, we can turn a negative into a positive," Tyler said.