NEWSLETTER

Former Goulds plant has new owner, outlook

BY JOHN E. USALIS (Staff Writer, Republican Herald) | December 14, 2009

ASHLAND - ITT Industries/Goulds Pumps is now Ashland Foundry and Machine Works after the sale of the plant that has employed local workers for more than a century.

During a Monday morning press conference, it was announced that the Ashland plant is under new ownership as of Saturday, with the final sale documents signed Friday.

The purchase preserves 183 jobs, a majority of which are union.

The meeting was held in the plant with employees wearing shirts with the new company name on display.

The plant was purchased by Michael Bargani, president and owner of West Coast Foundry, which employs about 100 workers in Huntington Park, Calif. Like the Ashland plant, West Coast Foundry is a stainless steel foundry.

At the beginning of 2009, the plant employed 310 people, but 86 pump assembly, testing, and order entry processes jobs were transferred to ITT's plant in Seneca Falls, N.Y., with the foundry and machining operations continuing at the Ashland facility.

About 30 jobs were lost to layoffs during the year.

After a prayer blessing was presented by the Rev. Dana Heckman-Beil, pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Ashland, ITT Vice President/Director of Human Resources Ronald L. Golumbeck said the process in finding a buyer had been a long one. But the plant now has a bright future.

"I'm pleased to be the first person to welcome each of you and to congratulate the transition that's taking place in this business today," said Golumbeck. "Two years ago when we started down this venture, we weren't sure where it was going to end up, and we know that it's created a lot of uncertainty in the meantime. Today, we're very pleased and very proud to be where we're at to hand off this business to someone who's very experienced and committed to the foundry and machine business."

Golumbeck continued, "I can tell you sincerely today that we believe that the future is as bright as we can be with this transition. As we embark on this new venture, we're able to culminate an opportunity that sees the strong potential for new and additional business and growth to come to this facility in the near-term future. That was one of the objectives that we set out for. We wanted to be sure that we found a prospective buyer that had both interest and commitment in the future of this business, but also someone who had the know-how, the contacts, the experience to be able to draw upon the talent that we have here already and know we have the potential to attract business to Ashland."

Richard S. Blong, general manager of ITT's Seneca Falls operation, spoke on the importance of Ashland Foundry continuing to supply stainless steel pump components to his New York operation.

"I know that you will be a wonderful supplier and will be carrying on this business a long, long time to come," said Blong. "The supply agreement is excellent. It's a long-term agreement, and we look forward to a great relationship."

Golumbeck introduced Fred Runge, president of United Steelworkers of America Local 14372, stating that Runge and his committee have worked behind the scenes and were "very instrumental" in preserving the plant under new ownership.

"We have a person (Bargani) here who is going to step up and give us a future," said Runge. "A year ago, we didn't know where we were going. I want to thank Mike Bargani for stepping forward to give us somewhere to go and a future for Ashland."

Bargani thanked the ITT management for working with him in the sale process.

"We all know that competition is out there, and out there means from here to China and beyond, and they (ITT) worked hard to make sure that this is well put together," said Bargani. "We have a contract for four years. Whatever it takes, we're going to make it happen."

Bargani also thanked the commitment of the union in the negotiations.

"I want to thank all of you. I've been there before - plant closings, shutdowns and layoffs. I want to thank you for being patient. You want to buy a car, buy Christmas presents, and you don't know what's going to happen. Thanks for your patience, working hard and putting the product out," said Bargani. "Right now we have only one customer, which is ITT, but hopefully we'll go forward beginning in January."

Bargani, who attended the press conference with his business partner Sharrel Hebert, praised the operation at the Ashland plant.

Hebert, a UCLA business school graduate, was previously a controller for International Paper Co.

"I've never seen a foundry so well put together with dedicated people," said Bargani. "You are well on your way to become one of the best foundries in the country and North America. I'm anxious to get to work."

The plant, located at the east end of Ashland Borough and partly in Butler Township, was founded in 1881 by Thomas, Francis, Charles and Arthur Goyne under the name "Goyne Brothers." It became Goyne Steam Pump Company in 1903 and Goyne Pump Company in 1955. The company was purchased in 1979 by Goulds Pumps, which was founded in Seneca Falls in 1848 by Seabury S. Gould.

ITT Industries acquired Goulds Pumps in 1997. After that purchase, several product lines were transferred to the Ashland facility from other plants, expanding the local operation.

Attending the press conference were local officials, including state Sen. David G. Argall; Schuylkill County Commissioner Frank Staudenmeier; Rosemarie Noon, a former Ashland mayor who is an aide to state Rep. Neal P. Goodman; and Schuylkill Economic Development Corp. President Frank J. Zukas.

Staudenmeier spoke of his mother who had worked at the plant when it was Goyne Pump and praised the work force at the plant and throughout the area.

As a surprise, the employees were informed they would receive bonus of two percent of their base pay, with the checks distributed after the press conference.

After the conference, human resources consultant Steve Diacont said a new labor agreement is in place for three years, which includes pay raises in the second and third years. Health insurance benefits will be provided through the Geisinger HMO. The contract goes to July 2012.

Diacont said that as the business expands, new employees would be hired, starting with those currently laid off.

"We have about 30 people currently on layoff, so the hope is that we'll be able to recall them as we bring more work in," said Diacont.

Runge said the negotiations for the new contract began with ITT and ended with Bargani. He said the union made some concessions, particularly the health insurance coverage. The previous package had Geisinger and Blue Cross and Blue Shield, but the cost of the latter coverage led to the Geisinger option only.

Bargani was born in Iran and came to the United States in 1975 to attend the University of Wisconsin, where he earned a degree in metallurgy. He moved to Los Angeles, was married and worked for a few companies before starting his own machine shop in 1995.

"I bought my first foundry in 2003 and I'm here now. I'm your typical example of an immigrant who works hard," said Bargani, noting that in a way he followed in the footsteps of those in the coal region who also came to America and worked hard for a better life.

"I knew about the operation here in Ashland long before the plant was for sale. I knew they were a good foundry. We used to get their products in L.A. and machine them for Goulds Pump," said Bargani.

The announcement of the sale comes after Schuylkill County's jobless rate reached a 21-year high in October at 11 percent.