Union officials at the Kittinger Co. Monday expressed optimism that its new owner will be able to restore the Buffalo furniture maker to economic health.
They were questioned after hearing Pittsburgh financier Michael Carlow, who bought Kittinger last Friday, say he plans to have the plant back in full operation with a full complement of 250 workers within six months.
Sylvester Jones, president of Local 39 of the United Electrical Workers, which represents the Kittinger workers, said only 43 workers are employed at the Buffalo factory now.
Jones said that Carlow has promised to meet with union officials Thursday or Friday of next week to see what can be done to turn around the company, which came within a couple of weeks of shutting down for good.
The new Kittinger chief executive met briefly with the union leadership Monday following a press conference in the Hyatt Regency Buffalo.
At the press conference, Carlow said the workers weren't the cause of the Kittinger's problems. Mostly, Carlow said he felt the company's problems were caused by the half-dozen corporate owners it has had in the last seven years.
Jones said Carlow didn't mention concessions at his meeting with union officials. The talks were described as brief, informal and pleasant.
"We're pleased we have a new owner. We're going to work to turn this around," said Jones, an assembler in the cabinet department for the last 25 years.
Louis Dudek, vice president of District 3 of the IUE, said, "We'll do everything we can to make Kittinger a prosperous company. I can assure you the members are anxious to make it work."
Carlow, a 39-year-old Pittsburgh-area financier, has named himself acting president of the firm and said he will be in Buffalo three or four times a week until a new chief executive is named.
Carlow's previous business experience has been largely in the operation of cement companies. He said he was chief executive officer of U.S. Cement, his biggest company. But he also has recently taken over a coal mining company, known as Mon Valley Steel, and at one time owned a landfill in Ohio.
His investment company, First Commerce Investment Corp., is located in Uniontown, Pa.
Carlow himself lives in the exclusive residential district of Upper Saint Clair outside of Pittsburgh.
Officials at U.S. Cement, located in Lowellville, Ohio, about an hour's drive from Pittsburgh, said that the company was sold five months ago to a French company and Carlow is no longer with it.
But business associates described him as a hard-working boss who was well regarded in the seven years he owned the company.
They said he combined U.S. Cement and a closed plant, after buying them both. The company employed 200 when it was sold, which was a little more than when U.S. Cement was purchased. It was believed to have been sold at a profit.
Michael Roman, vice president of industrial relations, who worked under Carlow, described him as "a dynamic personality who had an extensive background in business and was a mature person."
Carlow said he also owns a small cement ready-mix company in Morgantown, W.Va., and a glass-installation company, Kelly Smith Glass.
The Pennsylvania Department of Mines and Minerals described the Mon Valley Steel mine as a deep coal mine in Fredericktown, south of Pittsburgh. It was bought from the LTV Steel Corp. about five months ago.
Carlow said he began his business career when he was in his 20s by leasing and selling construction cranes. His first company, Rig & Crane, is no longer in business, he said.
At his press conference, Carlow said he learned about Kittinger about a year ago when he led an unsuccessful effort to buy another furniture company, Pennsylvania House, from the Quaker Oats Co. But, he said, it wasn't until two weeks ago that he made an attempt to buy Kittinger.
He toured the plant on June 11 and made an offer two days later. Carlow did not disclose the amount of the offer or the final purchase price, but he said it was a cash deal.
Carlow said he put up 70 percent of his own money, with the other 30 percent coming from Max Alfery Jr., also of Pittsburgh. Alfery is the new treasurer of the furniture company. His brother, Joseph, is the new marketing manager.
Joseph Alfery said that he intended to continue marketing the Kittinger line as the nation's top line of furniture, but he noted that there might be some changes in the product mix.
Carlow said that, although Kittinger has lost a key contract with Colonial Williamsburg, which had represented a quarter of the company's business, he has a meeting Wednesday with Colonial Williamsburg people to attempt to get it back in the future.
He said it was important to build the morale of the employees and get their confidence.
County Executive Gorski, speaking at the press conference, called the announcement that Carlow had taken over Kittinger "unexpected good news" and made Carlow an honorary citizen of Erie county.