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Business: Buying Jobs

3 minute read

To survive in Youngstown

Last year the Aeroquip Corp., a subsidiary of Toledo-based Libbey-Owens-Ford, announced that it was closing its hydraulic hose plant in Youngstown, Ohio. The city was already strug-gling to absorb the layoffs of more than 4,000 steelworkers, and new job prospects in the area seemed slim. So some of the 375 employees decided to buy the 48-acre facility and run it themselves.

Now, nine months after the new employee-owned company, Republic Hose Manufacturing Corp., took over the one-story plant, productivity is up 40%, and the rate of rejected products has dropped from 8% to 1%. The firm, which today employs 130, estimates that for its first complete fiscal year it will earn a pretax profit of up to $600,000 on revenues of $7 million; that is less than the approximately $12 million in revenues of Aeroquip’s final year but at least double the new owners’ initial projections.

Officers at Aeroquip were skeptical when the Youngstown employees presented their plan to buy the plant, but they agreed to sell if the buyers could pay the $2.5 million price. Frank Ciarniello, head of the United Rubber Workers local and a machine operator at the plant, and William Hawkins, then a general foreman and now vice president for operations, persuaded C.C. (“Pete”) Broadwater, Aeroquip’s manager of hose operations, to quit his job and join the new company as chairman and president. Aided by the Ohio Public Interest Campaign, a group that works to encourage business development, and Youngstown Mayor J. Phillip Richley, the three men managed to raise a bit more than $2.5 million.A bank arranged $1.85 million in loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration and the Economic Development Administration, and the city contributed $750,000 (by buying 33 of the plant’s acres). Six managers bought $100,000 worth of Republic stock, or 40% of the total. Later about 90 other employees invested $70,000 in the shares.

Aeroquip sold the plant because, of ficials said, it was too costly to run. By installing two new boilers, Broadwater trimmed utility bills 80%, to $200,000 annually. Other changes were more painful. The number of salaried employees was reduced to 16 from 50, and the top six managers took a combined pay cut of $71,000 a year. With union support, Broadwater dropped hourly wages to a flat $5, from as much as $6.50. Paid holidays fell to eight from twelve. Vacations, which had averaged five to six weeks annually, were reduced and dropped altogether for the first year. Also axed: the costly pension plan, which had been chewing up $900,000 a year, or between 6% and 7% of the operating budget. Instead, the shareholder-employees chose a combination of improved insurance benefits, bonus and profit-sharing plans, and the promise of eventual stock dividends

Yet morale is high. Even though time clocks and foremen’s whistles have been thrown out, Company Chief Broadwater believes workers are putting in longer hours. “We’re not martyrs, we just want to see this place go,” says Union Leader Ciarniello, who attends board meetings. “I’d make a deal with the devil to keep this place open.”

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