SPENCER VENEER SET TO CLOSE FRIDAY - Owners Cite Financial Problems

By Jim Cooper, Editor

The area will lose 132 jobs Friday when Spencer Veneer closes.

Employees and local officials learned of the closure last Friday afternoon. Steven Elefant, president of Canadian-based parent company General Woods & Veneers, said the troubled plant in the Roane Industrial Park was experiencing financial problems.

"The closing was caused by business circumstances, including the inability to replace an existing line of credit," Elefant wrote in a letter addressed to Gov. Joe Manchin, Attorney General Darrell McGraw and Spencer Mayor Terry Williams.

John Cave, general manager of the Spencer plant, did not return a phone message or e-mail seeking comment for this story.

The announcement came as a surprise to local officials, Mark Whitley, economic development director for Roane and Jackson counties, said.

"There's been a series of issues but we did not know until Friday that the plant would close," Whitley said. "I know they've had some financial difficulties and regulatory agency issues in the past that we've tried to help them address."

Elefant's letter said the usual 60-day notification period before a plant closing was not required in this instance because it would have precluded the company from obtaining needed capital.

"I wish we'd had more time," Whitley said. "It's definitely difficult to do anything in a week."

Whitley said he discussed the closing Monday with representatives for Manchin and the state development office. He said the state had already provided a tremendous amount of assistance to Spencer Veneer and was unable to go beyond the current commitment.

Spencer Veneer opened with 90 employees in October 2000 in the former Roane Hardwoods location. A year later, the company invested $1.5 million in the local plant that included a massive press dryer used in the veneer production process.

In 2003, Spencer Veneer expanded its 148,000 square foot plant by purchasing an adjacent 110,000 square foot building formerly occupied by BFGoodrich.

General Woods & Veneers closed its plant in Montreal last December and announced that work would shift to plants in Charlotte, N.C., and Spencer. Nathan Couch, who was then general manager of Spencer Veneer, said at the time that the news was good for the local plant.

"We're looking in the next year to really beef up," he told this newspaper. "We should see a real jolt of employment."

The company attracted an international clientele, with buyers from a number of countries visiting the plant to inspect veneers sliced from cherry, red and white oak, walnut, pine, hickory, poplar and other woods. Veneers are used for a variety of products including furniture, doors and paneling. ...

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