271 Philips workers told of shutdown
By Sparta Live | November 15, 2010 12:00 am
An industry that has been the provider of jobs for several generations of families will cease its operations in White County within 17 months.
Employees of Philips Professional Luminaires were told about the decision to cease operation during a Nov. 11, 2010, meeting. Philips has been a national leader in production of lighting fixtures.
According to Silvie Casanova, spokesperson for Philips’ corporate offices, the official closing date is March 31, 2010.
“This was decided fairly recently,” said Casanova. “We told the employees as soon as we made the decision. This was just a result of the outcome of market changes taking place in the global lighting industry in an effort to improve efficiency.
Casanova said the production lines would be moving to other facilities in North America. However, she did not specify any locations.
The Sparta plant had recently been named one of the “Top Ten Best Plants.” The facility had also won the “Best Plant” award within the Philips Professional Luminaires group of manufacturers and the “Most Improved Safety” award.
With these accolades listed on the plant’s profile, Casanova was asked what precipitated the decision to relocate what had seemingly been the brightest star in the entire Philips family.
“It’s been a multitude of factors, part of which is the construction industry being down,” she said. “There’s just less demand for these products.
“These decisions are never easy, and we’re trying to treat the employees with the utmost respect. Philips will be working with local and state officials to assist these employees with placement and/or retraining programs.”
White County Executive Herd Sullivan said he was shocked about the Philips announcement. Sullivan, who has served as county executive since 1998, had helped secure state assistance funds for the facility when it was Genlyte Thomas and then as Philips Luminaires.
“This was a surprise to everybody,” said Sullivan.
State Representative Charles Curtiss, of White County, who was out-of-town when The Expositor contacted him on Nov. 12, was astounded by the news. Curtiss, who was in Sparta the day of the announcement (Nov.11), said he had not been told about the planned closure of the Philips plant.
“It’s just a sad day,” said an emotional Curtiss. “That plant has really been a blessing to White County. “There’s no telling how many homes and farms have been paid for by people working there. That’s just really, really devastating. This is going to drive our unemployment rate up. The people that are going to lose their jobs – that’s what’s sad about it. There’s people there ready to retire and some lack a few years to retire. This is a bad, bad time to lose a job.”
In the past, Curtiss said the government has provided special funding to help retrain employees in these situations if their production lines are moving to another country. However, Curtiss is unsure if the funding is available if the production remains within the United States.
Philips Professional Luminaires may be the name on the sign at the entrance to the plant, on McMinnville Highway, but native White Countians most frequently refer to the facility as Thomas Industries.
According to a story in the June 27, 1963, edition of The Expositor, an announcement was made that Thomas Industries would be locating in White County. The plant was would employ 300. Completion date was expected by Jan. 1, 1964.
At that time, Thomas Industries was the nation’s leading manufacturer of residential, commercial and industrial lighting equipment.
The industry purchased 43 acres on McMinnville Highway, near Doyle, with plans to erect a 250,000-square-foot facility. The announcement was made jointly by Lee B. Thomas, chairman of the board of directors, and John G. Beam, president.
The decision to select Sparta was made two months prior to the June 1963 announcement, following negotiations with the State Division of Industrial Development, Tennessee Gov. Frank Clement, and Upper Cumberland Development Association.
Thomas Industries maintained executive headquarters in Louisville, Ky., and had eight plants throughout the United States and Canada at the time of the announcement about the Sparta plant.
A limited training and production facility had been conducted to train an initial group of employees. Howard Griffin, of Sparta, was named personnel manager. Griffin still resides in Sparta. Sorrell Brothers construction company, of White County, was awarded the contract for the plant. According to the story, the $1 million-plus plant was financed through the Industrial Bond Act of Tennessee.
The Expositor will provide a follow-up story about the Philips announcement.