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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Triumph to sell West Plains airplane parts factory

Triumph Composite Systems main gate

Triumph Group intends to sell its Spokane aircraft parts factory amid a companywide retrenching that has resulted in plant closures and consolidations across the country.

No buyers have been identified, company managers told employees on Wednesday.

“It’s really early in the process,” said Triumph spokeswoman Michele Long. She said the company is beginning to solicit bidders for the manufacturing plant on the West Plains.

Executives told employees that they hoped to have interested buyers tour the factory in January and close a deal by the end of March.

Triumph employs more than 500 people at the factory, including about 400 unionized Machinists along with engineers and management.

The Wayne, Pennsylvania-based company bought the factory 14 years ago from Boeing Co. It is the second-largest manufacturer in Spokane County, trailing Kaiser Aluminum Corp., which rolls aluminum for airplane bodies as part of its product mix at the Trentwood rolling mill.

Earlier this year the Machinists went on strike against Triumph for 47 days.

“As a union, we have no way of knowing what a new buyer’s plans would be,” said Connie Kelliher, a spokeswoman for the Machinists.

The union contract has successor language included to provide leverage and protect jobs in the case of a new buyer, she said. When Triumph bought the plant from Boeing, for example, the union jobs were kept although their pay was slashed 15 percent.

That sale came after Boeing issued an important caveat: Without a buyer, the plant would be closed.

But those warnings came in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and Triumph is not issuing such a dire warning this time.

“This isn’t the same scenario,” said Steve Warren, business representative for the Machinists. “This isn’t after aerospace took the biggest hit in history. Today it’s a strong plant in a strong industry.”

Workers make floor panels and ducting for airplanes, and the factory is considered a profit center for Triumph.

However, the company is refocusing its business strategy under new executive leadership this year.

Among the moves already announced is the closure of Triumph plants in Everett, along with those in other states including Texas, New York and Pennsylvania. Three plants in Connecticut also are being closed, with the work consolidated within a fourth plant in that state.

Long said the company is continuing a top-to-bottom review of its businesses and determined the West Plains factory no longer fit within Triumph’s long-term plans.

The union has said Triumph continues to move some work to its factories in Mexico as part of its strategy – one in Mexicali and the other in Zacatecas.

The Triumph announcement is the second this week regarding manufacturing on the West Plains. On Tuesday, Garco Building Systems issued notice that it would close its business of making steel buildings and lay off 112 people.

Staci Nelson, executive coordinator of the Inland Northwest Aerospace Consortium, called Triumph an important player in the region’s industry.

There are about 120 aerospace manufacturers employing more than 8,000 people in the region. The industry contributes about $500 million to the regional economy, Nelson said.

“They’re a big player here,” she said of Triumph.

Warren said he hoped a new buyer will recognize what he called a workforce skilled in the manufacture of composites.

“We’re hopeful Triumph will find a buyer that can grow this plant,” he said.