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TRANSPRO CLOSING BUFFALO PLANT
54 WORKERS LOSING JOBS AS WORK IS MOVED TO MEXICO

An automobile industry parts maker with more than a century of history in Buffalo is about to close.

Transpro's Tonawanda Street operation, formerly called Fedco Automotive Components, will shut down this June, according to the Connecticut-based company.

The local plant's employment had dwindled to 54 people. But the operation's forerunner, Fedders Corp., traces its Buffalo roots to 1901, and boasted 900 unionized employees as recently as the early 1970s.

The plant's aluminium heater production is being moved to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, where Transpro has had a plant since 1991. Some other work from the Buffalo plant had already been shifted there, which had created doubt about the long-range future of the local operation.

But the Buffalo workers' high productivity kept it going for this long, said Len Sauro, a union official with United Steelworkers of America Local 4447. "They know in their heart of hearts that it wasn't for a lack of effort."

Richard Wisot, Transpro's chief financial officer, said the decision was based on economics: the production cost per unit was higher in Buffalo than in Mexico.

"It's a tough decision when we close any facility," Wisot said. "We don't have a big history of closing facilities."

Transpro said it expects to incur one-time costs of $900,000 to $1.2 million related to its decision. Once the switch is fully made, Transpro expects to generate annual operating cost savings that "substantially" exceed the one-time charges.

Transpro makes aftermarket heat transfer and temperature control products for the automotive industry and heavy-duty applications. It acquired the Buffalo operation for $8 million at the end of 2002 from Tomkins Plc, the British conglomerate that owns Trico.

After reporting a $4.5 million loss in 2003, Transpro's fortunes rebounded last year. The company reported net income of $5.2 million, and recorded a 17 percent increase in revenues in 2004.

Despite those brighter results, Wisot said Transpro continued to face cost pressures from international competition. "It's because we need to achieve competitiveness, and it's a global economy and supply chain," he said.

Wisot praised the "productivity and attitude" of the Buffalo plant's workers in trying to keep the site competitive.

The one-time Fedders operation, founded by Theodore C. Fedders, had survived ups and downs over a number of decades and several ownership changes.

In 1990, the company was facing serious financial problems when it was bought by two managers, who kept the business alive by altering the product line and upgrading the plant.

Four years later, Stant bought the operation. Stant was acquired by Tomkins in 1997. The plant still had close to 200 workers in those years.

Sauro said it was not the employees' fault that the plant is losing its production.

"They did everything that was asked of them," he said, "and there was nothing more that could be done."

e-mail: mglynn@buffnews.com