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EMPLOYEES HOPING FOR THE BEST

When the weather cooled last autumn, Graphic Controls Corp. employees waited to discover if their jobs would move to South Carolina.

Now they'll spend another fall waiting to see if they have jobs.

This time their focus is Tyco International Ltd.'s announcement Tuesday that it acquired Buffalo's medical chart and device manufacturer and what affect that will have on them.

The Bermuda-based conglomerate could pour money into Graphic Controls and expand plans for a 240,000-square-foot factory on Exchange Street. Or it could make cutbacks in Buffalo.

Tyco is buying Graphic Controls from Bessemer Holdings L.P., its private group owners, for $460 million.

Company employees hoped for the best Wednesday.

"Most people are optimistic. We're viewing it as Tyco might come in here and invest some money and make us even stronger," said Dave Wojcik, a team leader for medical chart production. "There are a few people that are real apprehensive about it, because you never know what's going to happen in a buyout."

Daniel Klemens is 51 and worried about losing his job.

"I'm not too happy about this. You don't know what's going to happen with our jobs. First, they were supposed to have saved our jobs here in Buffalo, and then they turn around and sell us," Klemens said. "I've been here for 32 years and now I've got to go home and tell my wife I don't know if I'll have a job at the end of the year. And I'm right in the middle. I'm too young to retire and too old to start out in a new job. It's very frustrating."

Graphic Controls makes medical recording charts, cardiac electrodes, fetal spiral electrodes, needle collection and disposal systems, and other medical products.

The company decided last fall to stay in Buffalo, rather than relocate to South Carolina. A $14.5 million economic development package was granted to Graphic Controls for a new headquarters and factory in the city.

"Let's just wait and see what happens. It was OK last time, so I'm hoping it will turn out OK this time," said Don Gajewski, a direct ship production employee.

Tyco officials will have to decide whether to go ahead with the new plant.

Graphic Controls President and CEO Duane B. Hopper said Wednesday that the economic development package and his company's successful track record will work in Buffalo's favor. About 22 percent of the company's revenue is generated through products Tyco can produce at its other factories.

But Hopper said Graphic Controls has typically been a stronger performer than its competitor divisions of Tyco's Kendall Co. in Massachusetts.

"We beat them every time. We're very successful in competition with them and that's why Graphic Controls was attractive to Tyco," Hopper said.

Since the Buffalo company has a reputation as a well-run operation, Tyco has a strong reason to invest here and consolidate at other operations, Hopper said.

A Graphic Controls sales representative, who asked not to be named, said he also likes the company's chances based on its record in competition with other Tyco product lines.

"I would say it's a good thing, because we do complement their business and we have a lot to offer. The profits are there," he said.

The company's senior employees hope to carry out their family financial plans by staying with Graphic Controls until their target retirement age.

"Everybody is concerned right now, because jobs are at stake and we really don't know much . . . We've got a lot of people with 30 years experience here and they're concerned," said Jim Szalwinski, a mechanic with 15 years experience.

But one thing workers here are doing is keeping an eye on Tyco's track record elsewhere.

There was no happy ending for many employees at Sherwood-Davis & Geck in St. Louis after Tyco purchased the company and eliminated 420 local jobs by consolidating with Kendall.

But Hopper said Sherwood-Davis & Geck was a much different scenario. The company's troubles were well known in the medical manufacturing industry and its demise was eminent, Hopper said.

"Sherwood was a sick company for a number of years . . . When it happened, and it happened to be Tyco, no one was surprised," Hopper said. "Frankly, if we would have bought Sherwood-Davis & Geck, I would have taken the same stance that Tyco did. With us, I think the conversations will go in the opposite direction. I think we have talent and depth here."

Hopper said Tyco has also purchased two medical industry manufacturers in California in the last two years and reinvested in those companies.

For employees, it again becomes a waiting game. They went through this last year with relocation rumors and survived a failed purchase attempt by Tyco in 1994 when the company was ultimately bought by Bessemer.

"You have a lot of people here who have a superior work ethic. They've always come in and done their jobs, no matter whose bought or sold us," said Dave Radwan, a press operator and 30-year employee.

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