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Franklin plant shutting down

Macon County was hit with some tough news last week when Caterpillar Inc. announced that it would be shutting down its Franklin plant next year, leaving 150 people without work.

Franklin Mayor Bob Scott said he was shocked by the news that seemed to come out of the blue.

“It hit me like someone telling me a good friend had died,” he said. “Caterpillar has been like a friend to many people here. These are tough enough times and for this to happen — my concern is what can we do to help these people.”

Tommy Jenkins, economic development director for Macon County, said he would be exploring different options of how to assist Caterpillar’s displaced workers with retraining through the community colleges or through the local Employment Security Commission and finding new jobs.

“Caterpillar has always been a good corporate member of our community, but like any other business, they’ve had some ebbs and flows,” Jenkins said. “They’ve always done well in our community so it’s taken the whole county by surprise.”

The Franklin plant, along with the plant in Toccoa, Georgia, will close in 2016 as Caterpillar consolidates production to the company’s Mapleton, Illinois, foundry. A press release from Caterpillar stated that the transition would impact about 275 positions.  

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According to the press release, consolidating production to an existing location in close proximity to several of Caterpillar’s largest prime product manufacturing facilities and its global parts distribution headquarters and warehouse will enable the company to reduce shipping costs and drive efficiency by utilizing existing assets. Both the Franklin and Toccoa facilities produce seals used in Caterpillar machines manufactured around the world. 

“This decision is not a reflection of the dedication that our Franklin and Toccoa employees have demonstrated, but rather about improving efficiency across our component manufacturing footprint and locating seal production much closer to our supply base and several large facilities that use these components,” said Division Vice President Greg Folley.    

The company will work with employees to determine interest in positions at other Caterpillar facilities where applicable. 

Displaced employees will receive severance packages from the company and outplacement services from appropriate agencies to ensure they have support during this transition.

Macon County was recently designated as a Tier 1 county by the North Carolina Department of Commerce, meaning it is considered an “economically distressed” county. The county was designated as a Tier 2 in 2014, but the county’s small population and the higher percentage of residents living in poverty pushed it into the Tier 1 category. The unemployment rate as of November 2014 was 5.3 percent. 

The Tier 1 designation will make Macon County eligible for more economic development funding through the state. 

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