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Tenneco workers depending on quick economic rebound

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The loss of Tenneco and its jobs follows a familiar trend of auto parts plants moving to lower-cost southern jurisdictions. Production is to cease about May 1, throwing the remaining 140 employees out of work.

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How readily jobs will be available will depend on the economic rebound following the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, said Steve Furness, Grey County’s senior economic development officer, in an interview Wednesday.

“It may be a pause or we may be seeing shifts,” in the economy, he said. He’ll be watching “how long this goes on and what does it do to supply chains and things like that.”

More than a million lost jobs were reported in March across Canada and some six million people applied for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit by early April, the Bank of Canada noted Wednesday.

Not long ago, businesses were saying “Oh, the Tenneco employees, let’s go to the job fair, let’s make sure they’re attending. Because it was all about labour pool and who they could find and qualified staff,” Furness said.

“At that point, there were local firms, regional firms that were very much interested in the skillset and the workforce. And I think a lot of employees did find other employment. Certainly that may still be the case. I don’t know.”

Nearly 500 people worked at Tenneco when the company announced in October 2018 that the plant was closing. Workers have lost their jobs in stages, as contracts have ended.

On March 20, Bruce Power’s major component replacement project was dramatically scaled back due to the COVID-19 crisis but it will be resume. It started with Unit 6 and will extend the life of units three to eight over a period of 13 years.

About 30 nuclear suppliers and unions representing nuclear workers attended a job fair in November at the Sydenham Campus because there were increased opportunities.

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About 60 suppliers have established a presence in 10 communities, including Owen Sound, in Bruce, Grey and Huron counties.

There’s still an industrial base in Grey County, one focussed on product specialization and quality, not long runs of lowest-cost production, Furness said.

“Our region manufactures a wide range of products that are shipped around the world.”

The commercial dishwashers made at Hobart and mining equipment made at MacLean Engineering and nuclear industry supplier BWXT in Owen Sound are examples of specialized, quality producers, he said.

“Certainly the number of people working in that sector has declined but there’s still a lot of employment in that sector.”

He thinks the nearly 300,000 square-foot Tenneco building holds “significant potential to be repurposed for a new employer,” should Tenneco choose to sell it.

High ceilings and few pillars obstructing the space are attractive features and for a start-up or growing business looking for room to expand, buying an existing building is cheaper than building new, he said.

“Our region has as much skills and attributes to attract new manufacturing as anyone in Ontario,” he said. “I would never rule out the return of large-scale production facilities but the opportunities are more limiting because of the nature of manufacturing, automation and world trade.”

Tenneco announced in October 2018 work in its Owen Sound and Hartwell, Ga., plants would be transferred primarily to Tenneco’s ride control facility in Kettering, Ohio, “to enhance operational efficiency and respond to changing market conditions and capacity requirements.”

There’s been a trend in recent years of auto parts companies centralizing or moving production closer to the southern United States and Mexico to be closer to the growing production and customer base, Mathew Wilson said.

The vice-president, national policy with the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters also said it’s “more cost competitive” in those regions, including because of electricity prices and regulatory barriers.

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