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Weirton plant closing to affect 320 employees

WEIRTON, W.Va. — Area officials reacted to news Wednesday of Ball Corp.’s decision to close its Weirton facility, which it acquired in 1993 and employed about 320.

The local plant is slated to close by March 2017, according to company officials.

The Broomfield, Colo. company announced the closing on Wednesday, saying its role in producing flat sheet tinplate and can ends for Ball products would be assumed at other Ball facilities.

In a statement on Ball’s website, Jim Peterson, the company’s chief operating officer, said, “We are continuing our efforts to maximize value in our existing business by redistributing production services within our system, ensuring these services are strategically located near our customers and suppliers, and investing in the quality of our production services in their new locations,”

“While closing a plant is always difficult, this decision will allow us to remain competitive in a changing market and to continue delivering first-class products to our customers.”

Ball officials have said its Weirton employees “will be provided benefits in accordance with the effects bargaining process and Ball policies and will be able to apply for open positions within Ball.”

Company officials did not, however, say how many open positions exist, or at what facilities. The company’s three closest locations are in Hubbard, Ohio, Columbus and Findlay, Ohio – about 70, 150 and 200 miles away from Weirton, respectively.

The Ball plant is one of several industrial facilities at the Half Moon Industrial Park off Freedom Way in the Brooke County section of Weirton.

Brooke County Commissioner Tim Ennis said of the closing, “We were saddened by the news. Our immediate thoughts are of the 300-plus people who are losing employment.”

Ennis said he and the other commissioners planned to offer assistance to Weirton Mayor Harold Miller in keeping the Weirton Ball plant open if possible.

He acknowledged it may not be likely “but I’d hate to think of any company saying, didn’t they care that we were leaving?”

Pat Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, also expressed regret over the loss of jobs.

Ford said the closing was part of a move by Ball to streamline its operations that included the closing of another Ball facility in Virginia last year.

“It still doesn’t make it easier to hear there are people who will be going home to share bad news with their families,” he said Wednesday evening.

Ford said Ball’s departure shouldn’t be seen as a sign the region isn’t a viable location for industry. He said while logistics were cited as the motive for the Weirton plant’s closing, they also have been cited as the reason other businesses have come to the area.

He said the Upper Ohio Valley is within an eight-hour drive from two-thirds of the nation’s population and one-third of Canada’s population.

Ford said the loss of jobs isn’t a trend, as Brooke County’s unemployment rate has gone from 12 percent to 6 percent in the last five years.

The BDC has been working in the last few years to fill the former Wheeling Corrugating Plant. Among seven companies operating there is Jupiter Aluminum, a Hammond, Ind.-based company that intended to buy and relocate equipment from the plant but opted to move in instead.

Asked if there’s potential for a new business to move into the Ball facility, Ford said the plant is a good candidate, with at least 100,000 square feet. He said he will ask officials with ArcelorMittal, which owns the property, when it will become available and its adaptability to other industries.

Idling the Weirton plant is expected to cost the company about $21 million, primarily for employee severance and benefits, facility shutdown costs and asset impairment and disposal costs.

According to its website, Ball Corporation is a provider of metal packaging for beverages, foods and household products, and of aerospace and other technologies and services to commercial and governmental customers. It was founded in 1880 and today employs more than 14,500 people worldwide.

(Staff writer Warren Scott contributed to this story.)

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