A certain word is woven into many descriptions of SKF by former employees of the now-closed Glasgow facility – “great.” As the building enters its final days, however, many of those workers also feel a twinge of sadness.
Nothing has been made at the Happy Valley Road facility in almost five years, and the company – which makes bearings and hubs for the automotive industry – decided several weeks ago to demolish the 360,000-square-foot structure and return the 28.9-acre lot to a natural state. At least a quarter of the building has already been reduced to rubble.
Glasgow’s Mark Wade started working at the plant in 1979 as safety and health manager, a position that became environmental safety and health manager after several years. He continued in that role even after he became human resources manager, a job he held for most of a decade, he said.
He sees on a daily basis the dismantling of the structure, because he has been responsible for maintaining what’s left of the building for several years.
As part of that duty, he has shown the building several times to prospective buyers.
“I was hoping another manufacturer would come in here and provide some jobs in the community,” he said.
On Friday, as Wade looked around the crumbling remains of a building where he spent much of his life, he thought about the sheer size of the place.
“I walked a lot of miles in that building,” he said.
Wade said the company put many kids through college, including his own.
“It was a good-paying company compared with the others, and to see that leave – it was disheartening,” he said of the closure of the facility in March 2009, when SKF’s North America operations were consolidated to Mexico. “I don’t mind to tell you, it was a tough pill to swallow.”
Wade knew that he, at least, would remain with the company for what he thought might be a year or two before the property sold.
“I didn’t realize it would be almost five years before the end,” he said.
SKF had considered tearing the building down for several months, but it didn’t seem real to Wade until several weeks ago, when heard the demolition company was actually coming.
“My heart sank,” he said.”I just had a knot in my stomach, a sick feeling, that it actually was going to happen.
He has seen some of his former coworkers around town, and they’ve had similar reactions, he said.
“SKF has been a very, very good company to work for. You’ll never hear me say a negative word about SKF company-wise,” Wade said. “I understand the way business operates, but I think we would have done just as well with it here,” Wade said.
Carl Deckard started as an hourly employee in the warehouse and gradually worked his way up to warehouse manager, in charge of shipping and receiving, he said.
“I started in ‘67, right out of the military, and ... there weren’t a lot of places to work,” Deckard said. “It was a good place to work, especially if you had a family. … They had the best benefits in town – full medical. We had dental.”
When Deckard’s wife had cancer a few years ago, he said, “I wasn’t out a thing.” And his retirement was excellent as well.
The biggest thing that made SKF special, though, was the people, he said. When he asked others to do things – for example, to go into work at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. – “they’d never complain. They’d just go do it,” he said.
Deckard heard about the demolition from Wade.
“I hate to see it go. It’s just terrible,” Deckard said. “I go by there and look at it and can’t believe all the years.”
Billy Bishop was a production manager at SKF from 2003 until it closed, he said.
“I was very fortunate to work for that company the period of time I was there. I would not have left had it not relocated out of the country,” Bishop said.
Bishop said SKF was like a big family, and the turnover rate was fairly low. The company promoted from within a lot, as well.
“It’s sad to see [the building go], because at one point, I think it was in the ‘80s, it employed over 800 people, and that’s jobs that have left the community that paid a very good wage and had great benefits and was a good place to work – a great place to work, to be honest with you,” he said.
It was equally sad to see the structure just sit there empty, said Bishop, a lifelong resident of Glasgow.
“There were so many families that relied on that income,” he said. “It was a blessing to the community because all that income got generated back through the community. It helped a lot of different businesses.”
Dan Iacconi, the executive director of Glasgow-Barren County Industrial Development Economic Authority, started working at SKF as a manufacturing engineer in 1993. He worked his way through other positions to become general manager of the hub division in Glasgow and in South Carolina, where SKF produced tapered roller bearings.
Iacconi said both the 2009 closure of the plant and its current demolition tugs at his heart.
“There was a wonderful group of individuals that worked there,” he said. “Great work force. I had great relationships with everyone there and it’s just difficult to see something be finalized like that.”
Still, regardless of his personal feelings, he said he understands the business decision.
“We’re just going to try to benefit from that, because there are 28 acres there that’ll be prime property located right in the city, really,” he said. “So there’s an opportunity there.”
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