News from the Tennessee Valley State, Local and National news

may close

500 employees will be out of
work if Decatur plant shuts down

By Paul Huggins 340-2395

One of Decatur's oldest industries is expected to shut down, leaving about 500 employees out of work.

Wolverine Tube, which began producing copper products for refrigeration and cooling systems in 1948, could make an announcement as soon as Tuesday.

The Daily learned of the pending closing Monday from Wolverine retirees.

Wolverine Chief Financial Officer Jed Deason did not deny the plant was closing, saying only that he won't comment on rumors.

"We're a public company," he said. "If there is something to be announced, we will announce it when it's appropriate."

Rumored for months

Employees leaving the plant Monday said they were told nothing about closing, but they've heard rumors for months. But some looked surprised when asked about it.

"You hear so many things, you don't know what to believe," said employee Bobby Gentry. "We'll just have to wait and see."

Another employee said a new rumor arose Monday that employees would be told Tuesday morning that the plant would close. He said the company spent Monday cleaning up the area where employee meetings are held.

The plant at the end of Market Street Southeast has been fighting to stay alive for several years, and there was talk the company would file for bankruptcy to deal with mounting debt. Escalating copper and energy prices have overwhelmed Wolverine.

It restructured in 2006, which eventually led to the sale of facilities in Quebec and Tennessee. Earlier this year, it restructured its retirement program for most active U.S. employees, reducing its retirement costs by about $24 million over the next five years.

Meanwhile, stock prices, which surpassed $40 per share in 1996 and 1999, fell to below $1 in 2005.

On Thursday, the company reported a $1.3 million net loss for the third quarter of 2007, compared with a $49.5 million net loss for the same quarter of 2006.

Net sales for the quarter were $353 million in 2007, down from $396 million in 2006.

Net income for the first nine months of 2007 was $9.3 million — an improvement over a net loss of $45.2 million for the same period in 2006.

Wolverine Tube, headquartered in Huntsville, dates back to 1916, when a Detroit radiator manufacturer began making seamless copper tubing. The automobile market for tubing dwindled in the 1930s, but Wolverine readily tapped into the growing market for refrigerators and cooling systems.

Wolverine was one of the first major, non-agricultural companies to invest in Decatur during the infancy of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Only Goodyear, which now operates as Hyosung, has been in Decatur longer.

When Wolverine opened the $12 million plant here on 270 riverfront acres, it was the most modern copper tubing plant in the world. Its peak employment came in 1999, when 1,085 worked at the plant.

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