The Wood-Mode custom cabinetry plant in Kreamer will soon be operating again under the leadership of Middleburg businessman Bill French who finalized a purchase of the company's assets Thursday.
"Within a couple of weeks, we hope to hire production workers," said French, president of Professional Building Systems of PA in Middleburg.
It's been close to three months since Wood-Mode abruptly closed on May 13 after 77 years and left 938 people jobless when the former owners, Robert Gronlund and his son, Brooks Gronlund, failed to find a buyer or secure more financial aid to keep the business running.
French already has 14 people working at the plant and will be adding more management, maintenance, purchasing agents, sales and office workers over the next few weeks before beginning production.
There will be retraining of production staff who will likely be required to do more than one job, he said.
He hopes the new operation will require a workforce of between 200 and 500. "It will depend on orders. They seem to be strong and a lot of dealers are interested" in Wood-Mode product," he said.
Bob Gessner, former director of manufacturing, and Rod Hunter, former director of service operations, have been working with French as he's been negotiating the purchase that includes the company name, buildings, equipment and inventory. The debt will remain the Gronlunds' responsibility.
The sale doesn't put an end to the federal lawsuit filed against the Gronlunds for failing to give employees at least 60 days notice of the plant closure.
French said he believes the Wood-Mode brand remains valuable despite the devastating blow dealt to the cabinet industry by the Gronlunds' decision to abruptly shutter the business and then remain silent.
"I think it's a valuable name when it's connected with the people who produced the quality product," said French, declining to say how much he paid for the company assets. "I guess time will tell" whether the mostly cash deal was worthwhile.
Snyder County Commissioner Joe Kantz lauded French's effort to revive what was once one of the county's largest employers.
"It is great to hear that Mr. French is making additional investment in our county and citizens. I wish him the best," Kantz said.
For the next few weeks, French and his team will organize the office and ship out available inventory that was left when the plant was closed without warning.
"Most of the inventory is still good," he said. Any orders that have not been canceled will be shipped to dealers.
No shortage of workers
French is confident he'll be able to attract skilled workers based on the 300 or so Facebook friends he acquired after publicly announcing his bid to buy Wood-Mode in June.
Several employees who have not found jobs yet said they want to return to the plant.
"I've told him I'm interested," said Brian Wilson, a 26-year employee. "A lot of people have been waiting to get back. I'm happy for them. There has just been a lot of stress for a lot of people."
Anna Snyder worked at Wood-Mode for 19 years and would like to go back depending on the compensation and benefits.
"I loved my job, but I'd have to see what they're offering," she said of her work as a final inspector.
Snyder said she doesn't think it will be easy to revive a plant that has been idle for three months, but "if (French) listens to the employees he'll have a shot."
Still bitter over the Gronlunds' handling of the company and the closure aftermath, Mike Brosius, a 33-year employee, said he'd like a chance to return to his former workplace and "make it even better."
French has worked closely with Brooks Gronlund during the sale negotiation and said that while the former owners have no "specific role" in the new company, he may at some point ask the younger Gronlund to serve as a consultant.