REEDSPORT — Fifty-one jobs are leaving Douglas County, and a once-promising manufacturing venture is closing its doors.
In letters dated Oct. 8, the home office of civil engineering firm American Bridge notified the state of Oregon and the city of Reedsport of the layoff of 51 employees from the company’s Reedsport fabrication plant.
“This affects all employees, all positions, and all titles,” read the letter from Human Resources Director Kathy Bonetti.
Some employees worked their last day Monday. Because the company has contracts left to fulfill, the plant shutdown will be staggered over the next few weeks.
Headquartered in Coraopolis, Pa,. with facilities across the country, American Bridge opened the plant in 2002. Workers there assembled and painted steel structures used in bridges.
“These were wonderful jobs for the Reedsport community,” Douglas County Commissioner Susan Morgan said today. “They paid well and offered full benefits.”
In August, Douglas County had the sixth-highest unemployment rate of Oregon’s 36 counties, with 11 percent. But Morgan said the layoffs come at a time when the local economy is beginning to improve.
“We’ve been seeing some more jobs in the woods and in the mills, so this is particularly sad to see,” she said.
A message left with a manager of the Reedsport plant was not immediately returned today.
Morgan said the layoff had been rumored for months. She said it was part of a division closure within American Bridge that also included a plant shutdown in the Midwest.
She said the county wants to get a new employer in the facility as soon as possible.
The plant is on Bolon Island off Highway 101, just north of Reedsport’s municipal boundary. American Bridge recently installed a dock on the 40-acre site, for barging away large components.
Reedsport City Manager Jonathan Wright said the modern dock was built when economic developers in the Reedsport-Gardiner-Winchester Bay area were positioning the area as a future hub of wave energy technology.
“The idea was if you build it, they will come,” he said.
American Bridge had promised to deliver 150 jobs at the plant by 2005, but was hit hard by the abrupt closure of a rail line between Coos Bay and Eugene.
A spur to the Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad was added two years ago. It allowed the plant to compete with large corporations for bids for larger projects, but the damage had been done, according to Morgan.
Reedsport still contains two large businesses that provide manufacturing jobs: boat manufacturer Fred Wahl and boat repair yard Reedsport Machine and Fabrication.
In 1999, 400 jobs were lost when International Paper closed its Reedsport plant, which had been one of coastal Douglas County’s largest employers since it opened in 1963.
• You can reach reporter Garrett Andrews at 541-957-4218 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.