The employee and visitor entrance of Jeld-Wen's Yakima plant is pictured on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019 in Yakima, Wash. The plant is scheduled to close in April. 

In 2005, Jeld-Wen completed construction of a new window manufacturing plant in Yakima.

At the time, Jeld-Wen had been in the Yakima Valley for nearly two decades. The new plant on North Sixth Avenue replaced a window and patio door plant at 1015 E. Lincoln Ave.

For Michael Morales and other Yakima Valley community and business leaders, the factory embodied a firm commitment to the region.

Morales was deputy director for the Yakima Department of Community and Economic Development. In a 2007 story from the Yakima Herald-Republic, he called Jeld-Wen “a good national corporate name to have in Yakima.”

Jeld-Wen is now on its way out of the Valley, with the Yakima plant set to close April 5.

In a written statement Feb. 4 announcing the closure, officials from the manufacturing and distribution company said closing the plant was necessary to “build efficiencies” and “realign our operating structure to more appropriately fit our revised business plan.”

When the factory at 1311 N. Sixth Ave. closes, 179 employees will need to find new jobs. The region will be losing a significant employer. The 141,200-square-foot facility and the 8 acres it sits on will be vacant.

While there isn’t an ideal time for a plant closure, business leaders say it’s happening when unemployment in the region is relatively low, manufacturing jobs are increasing and economic development officials have plenty of opportunities to attract other companies.

“The good news for workers who are impacted is there are lots of manufacturing employers and other employers in the immediate area that are looking for workers who have that kind of skill set,” said Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Yakima County Development Association, the county’s economic development arm.

Jeld-Wen officials declined to discuss their closure of the Yakima plant, saying in a written statement they were focused on helping employees through the transition.

“Jeld-Wen has also provided resources at the plant for employees to access (employment) services, including a workstation for job-search related tasks like resume building and skills development,” the company wrote in a Friday email.

Help for employees

When Jeld-Wen notified state employment officials that it would close the Yakima plant, several employment organizations worked quickly to help the 179 employees who would lose their jobs.

Michelle Smith, employer engagement analyst for the South Central Workforce Council, visited the Yakima Jeld-Wen plant several times last month to meet with employees. The meetings included presentations from employment and education experts on filing for unemployment, classes available at Worksource Yakima, and programs available for those who want to switch careers.

In its written statement, Jeld-Wen said the first of several job fairs for employees is Friday, with more planned.

“We’ve had enough interest to warrant multiple job fairs,” the company wrote in its statement. “To date, there are 12 major employers in the area interested in speaking with our associates.”

The average age of employees at Jeld-Wen is 38, Smith said. Some want to focus on working until the plant closes, while others are eager to secure another job or start training for a new career.

“We’re just there to help them navigate the search process,” Smith said.

Manufacturing jobs in Yakima County have increased since the Great Recession, reaching 8,530 in 2017, the most recent year for which data is available through the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. While that doesn’t quite match pre-recession levels — the county reported 8,739 manufacturing jobs in 2007 — it’s well above the 7,470 jobs reported in 2010.

Full QCEW numbers are not available for 2018, but the federal Current Employment Survey shows that manufacturing jobs in Yakima County increased or held steady every month in 2018. On average, the job growth rate for manufacturing jobs in Yakima County was 4.2 percent, well above the county’s overall 1.1 percent job growth last year.

“Things change quickly, especially in the county, but if you look at 2018, we did fairly well,” said Don Meseck, regional economist for the state Employment Security Department.

New opportunities

Smith is focusing on how the soon-to-be-vacant plant might lead to new opportunities.

The factory is in northeast Yakima, in an industrial area near Interstate 82 and a rail line. In recent years, Washington Fruit has been expanding its footprint on property across the street, and there are several other agricultural companies and manufacturers in the area.

Jeld-Wen has not listed the property for sale, but the company’s real estate director has already contacted the YCDA, Smith said.

According to Smith, the association has received several inquiries in the past year from companies looking to expand. Those companies are from a variety of industrial sectors, Smith said, including chemical manufacturing, paper and wood manufacturing and aerospace.

The Jeld-Wen building may be attractive to those companies, he said.

But the county is looking for a good fit, Smith said — “ideally something that is either a similar use of equal or greater value to the economy.”