It’s taken a while to come to fruition but Truro Mayor Bill Mills said he began to suspect more than a decade ago that the long-term future of the local Tandus carpet plant was in jeopardy.
“You hate to think the worst but I’ll go back to the days when we were looking at cogeneration district heating and one of the major players in that project was Tandus,” he said.
Cogeneration is a combination of heat and electrical power produced from the same fuel source and facilities equipped with such systems use them to produce electricity while tapping off the waste heat for other needs.
The Town of Truro began exploring the concept of developing a cogeneration district heating system as early as 2003 but the plans died several years later because of a lack of industrial demand.
“In order to move the project forward we needed them (Tandus) to sign (a memorandum of understanding - MOU) because they would have represented 40 per cent of the load required to make the project a success. And they refused to sign the MOU because they didn’t want to plant their roots too deep,” he said. “So, you kind of had that little bit of a feeling then. You don’t like to think that way but … the cogen project died and here we are today in 2019 and I guess you sort of look back now and say that’s what that was about.”
The plant is owned by Tarkett North America, which announced this week that it was shutting down its Truro operations and relocating to Dayton, Georgia, an area Mills said has been described as “the carpet capital of the world”.
The mayor said he has heard one reason for the relocation is to increase efficiency in that materials produced at the plant are only about 90 per cent done and then are sent to Georgia for completion.
“So, we were just sort of a staging area.”
Mills said he also realizes that market for carpet is a far cry from what it once was.
“Their market for residential is pretty well drying up based on our culture. And so, they were going to go with railway cars and planes and commercial reality,” he said.
“The other thing that came up, I’m sure, and there would be no doubt in my mind, that the incentives from Georgia to the company to relocate, probably were substantial,” he added. “And that’s something that we’re familiar with in Canada and so it’s hard to compete on that right now.”
Tarkett spokesperson Bridget Burgess said operations at the plant will continue until July 16, eliminating a total workforce of approximately 240 people. Almost 200 of those are unionized members through Unifor Local 4612.
“The closure of the plant here in Truro is consistent with the company’s strategy to optimize operations, and position Tarkett to better anticipate and respond to the needs and demands of the North American market,” she said, in an emailed statement. “As most of the products manufactured in Canada are shipped to the US market, the move to Dalton, Georgia will significantly improve logistics.”
Earlier this week, representatives from the plant met with Deputy Premier/Colchester North MLA Karen Casey and Business Minister Geoff MacLellan to discuss transition and support for employees.
“The meeting was constructive and positive and we are working to bring together partners to develop a plan for our employees,” Burgess said.
“During this time, we are proudly continuing to serve customers, as we have here in Truro for decades. We have a dedicated workforce and will continue to fulfill orders until the plant’s closure. We are committed to supporting employees and will continue to work collaboratively with Unifor over the coming months,” she said.
And while Burgess said she could not get into specific compensation details for employees, the company will be standing behind pension obligations and completing the requirements as outlined in the Industry Closure Act. “We know the next few months are going to be difficult. We are working with human resources professionals, as well as government partners, to develop a plan to support our team,” she said.
Mills said he and other town representatives are scheduled to meet with company officials next week.
“We’ve requested a meeting with Tandus and we want to discuss things going forward like the building itself, what will happen there as far as opportunities for the town,” he said. “We have also found out that Tandus has reached out to Futureworx to look at some retraining programs, so that’s a good sign.”