OWINGSVILLE — A Central Kentucky county still aching from the loss of an electronics manufacturing plant about a month ago was struck with harsher news this week when the county's second-largest employer announced plans to shut down.
Cintas Corp., which makes uniforms for businesses, will close two Kentucky plants — one in Owingsville, the other in Hazard — on Jan. 31 and lay off nearly 300 employees.
In Owingsville, the announcement that Cintas would close came about a month after Key Electronics, based in Jeffersonville, Ind., closed and 37 employees were laid off, said Bath County Judge-Executive Carolyn Belcher.
"It was a pretty tough day in Bath County yesterday," Belcher said.
Matthew Rogers waited to pick up his wife, Andrea, at the Owingsville plant, which has only one shift, on Wednesday afternoon.
"It's going to hurt us," Rogers said. "She's probably going to go back to college."
Rogers works for an automotive supplier in Mount Sterling. He said his wife wants to become a paralegal.
But Wednesday night the couple had to discuss a checklist of bills that must be paid and ways to earn extra money. Rogers said they've discussed selling an Acura sport-utility vehicle for a cheaper car.
He said his wife is expecting their second child in June.
Twila Carpenter, who works in shipping at Cintas in Owingsville, echoed Rogers and said there are a lot of single mothers at the plant who will be hurt by the closing. "It's going to hurt a lot of people," said Carpenter, who has been with Cintas just over a year.
The plant in Owingsville, which has 156 employees, makes uniform work pants. And the plant in Hazard, which has 142 employees, makes uniform work shirts.
But in the past two years, there's been a steady decline in the demand for the work uniforms made at the two plants, said Heather Trainer, corporate communications manager for Cintas.
The uniforms made in Owingsville and Hazard are shipped to distribution centers. When the two plants close, the garments will be manufactured at other Cintas locations.
Trainer said the bad economy has forced some businesses that order uniforms from Cintas to close. Other businesses have stopped ordering work uniforms for new employees.
"The company really considers this to be a last resort," Trainer said. "It just came to a point that we had no other choices."
Trainer said she didn't think most employees were surprised to hear the plants were closing.
Vickie Fugate of Clay City has worked at Cintas in Owingsville for 18 years. On Wednesday, she said she hadn't given much thought to what she'll do after Jan. 31.
"We all felt that this was coming," Fugate said. She later added, "I think I'll be able to cope with it."
In Kentucky, Cintas has about eight other operations, including two in Lexington (about 170 employees), two in Louisville (225 employees) and one in Ashland (130 employees). Trainer said workers who are laid off in Owings ville and Hazard will be encouraged to apply for open positions at other locations.
Cintas will offer severance pay, continued health care coverage and an on-site job center at each plant. The people who are laid off will retain their vested holdings in the Cintas Partners Plan, which includes profit-sharing, 401(k) contributions and an employee stock-ownership program.
Belcher said the closing of Cintas and Key Electronics, a maker of circuit boards and other components, had a huge impact in a county of 11,000 people. Only the school district employs more people than Cintas.
Belcher said she immediately started calling state officials about employee training programs in surrounding towns and other possible places of employement.
"We want to be sure, on our end, that no one falls through the cracks," she said.
Owingsville Mayor Don Kincaid said he hopes improvements to the city's infrastructure and the opening of a sewage treatment plant this summer will lure businesses to the area.
"It's a shame," Kincaid said. "It's going to hurt a lot of people right at Christmastime."
Shari Spence, an employee at Owingsville's Town and Country Food Mart, listened to some customers express concerns Wednesday morning at breakfast. Those customers included a man whose wife has been with Cintas for 14 years and isn't sure what type of job she'll be able to get after the plant closes, because of her age.
"The economy's going down, and we're going to be a ghost town," Spence said.