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Perry County factory shuts down

A Perry County wood-products factory, hailed for its much-needed jobs when it opened in the mid-1990s, has shut down.

There were 165 employees at the Weyerhaeuser Co. plant near Hazard, said company spokesman Monte Simpson.

A few are still working to fill final orders and shut down equipment, but there will soon be no work at the plant, Simpson said.

The factory also boosted employment at sawmills and logging operations in the area. There could be job losses among loggers without it, said Bob Bauer, executive director of the Kentucky Forest Industries Association.

"It's a tough blow to the industry for sure," he said.

Workers at the factory used adhesives to turn strands of trees into building materials for residential construction. It could process trees that had little or no commercial value otherwise.

The factory was a victim of the deep downturn in housing construction, Simpson said.

The same day it announced the shutdown in Hazard, Weyerhaeuser said it would close three other plants and five service centers, laying off 480 employees in other parts of the country. It has announced other closings and cuts at mills and other facilities this year as well.

Simpson called the shutdown of the Hazard plant an indefinite "curtailment," not a closing. Whether it could someday reopen "depends on the market situation," he said.

Bauer said he'd been told the company hoped to reopen the plant in 12 to 18 months.

Hazard Mayor Bill Gorman said he didn't think the company would walk away from such a large investment.

The construction cost was projected at $100 million when TJ International, an original partner, approved building the plant in August 1993.

Economic-development officials offered significant incentives, such as tax breaks and infrastructure improvements, in courting the company to come to Kentucky.

The plant started production under the name Trus Joist MacMillan in 1995.

Gorman noted that although Weyerhaeuser has laid off employees, the nearby Sykes Enterprises call center, which closed in 2003 and reopened in 2007, now employs 700.