The owner of Western Forge on Tuesday confirmed it will close the company’s hand tool manufacturing plant off Garden of the Gods Road and lay off all 164 employees, ending 54 years in Colorado Springs.
Ideal Industries Inc. has not yet set a date for the closing, but will operate the plant until current customer orders are fulfilled, said Mike Grossman, who represents Ideal. A statement from Ideal said laid-off employees will receive severance packages that include salary, health care and outplacement benefits if they don’t leave before their separation date.
The company will consolidate manufacturing at its SK Professional Tools plant in Sycamore, Ill., west of Chicago, where Ideal said it plans to add employees. Western Forge employees can move to other Ideal plants and will be given “priority consideration” if they are qualified for open positions, Ideal said in the statement.
Ideal said the closing was triggered when troubled retail giant Sears sold its Craftsman tool division nearly four years ago and moved tool manufacturing operations offshore. The company said Western Forge employees tried to “streamline operations and offset the loss of the Craftsman volume for years but were not able to offset the loss enough to sustain the plant.” Ideal said it tried unsuccessfully to sell the Colorado Springs plant.
Ideal said U.S. hand tool manufacturing has largely moved to offshore manufacturing, leaving the company as one of just three U.S. firms that make most of their tools in the U.S.
“This was a long and carefully considered decision,” Ideal CEO Steve Henn said in the statement. “Our Western Forge employees delivered high quality product and did everything we asked of them to help us maintain the business. We just couldn’t survive the impact of the Craftsman move.”
The announcement comes less than two months after Microchip Technology announced plans to lay off up to 275 employees from its Colorado Springs semiconductor manufacturing plant. Microchip planned to make the cuts in the first quarter as part of plan to shift production from older plants it acquired in its 2018 purchase of Microsemi and make the local plant a specialty facility focusing on automotive, military and aerospace products.
Western Forge filed a layoff notice in 2015 with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment indicating it would eliminate 150 jobs by early 2016 and never filed an update. At that time, the Colorado Springs plant employed more than 300 people. The company’s 345,000-square-foot plant at 4607 Forge Road makes pliers, screwdrivers, adjustable wrenches, torque wrenches, punches, chisels and other tools sold by major retailers.
Western Forge has a long history in the Springs. The company was started in 1965 in Defiance, Ohio, as a joint venture of Sears and founder William Schlosser to make torque wrenches. It moved to Colorado Springs a year later, where it expanded to all types of hand tools. In 1981, Emerson Electric Co. of St. Louis bought Western Forge, which employed more than 1,000 locally in 1990.
By the late 1990s, the company moved its screwdriver manufacturing plant to North Carolina because the booming high-technology industry made finding Colorado Springs workers difficult. Western Forge closed the North Carolina plant in 2005 and accepted $200,000 in cash incentives from the city of Colorado Springs and the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp. to consolidate operations in a vacant building on Garden of the Gods Road.
Before the Great Recession in 2008, Western Forge employed 645 and tried to diversify by producing trailer hitch parts and seeking other metal manufacturing jobs. Ideal, which makes professional-quality tools used in the construction, maintenance, communications and manufacturing industries, bought Western Forge from MW Universal Inc. in 2010.
Jim James, Ideal’s then-CEO, said it the time of the purchase that the company planned to invest “tens of millions of dollars” in new equipment to help Western Forge regain its reputation as one of the world’s premier hand-tool manufacturers. Much of the company’s manufacturing equipment at that time dated to the 1960s and 1970s and Western Forge needed new equipment to improve efficiency and make it more competitive with Asian manufacturers.
Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234