Four years after announcing a $16 million investment that would bring 50 new jobs to Greenwood County, Hodges-based Crown Casting Industries has closed.
Heather Simmons Jones, chief executive officer of the Greenwood Partnership Alliance, confirmed the news on Tuesday in an email to the Index-Journal.
"GPA has confirmed the closure of the facility with 28 employees being affected. These employees were released from employment last Friday," Jones said. "GPA has reached out to appropriate resources at SC (Department) of Commerce, SC Works and Upper Savannah (Council of Governments) to ensure that any available transitional or unemployment benefit that is available to those displaced is tapped."
Mark Ross, president and CEO of Crown's parent company, Ross International, Ltd., said poor market conditions and called the closure regrettable.
"During the past year, key foundry markets like heavy equipment and oil and gas exploration have decreased in size. The strong U.S. dollar has disproportionately affected capital equipment exports, a key casting market," Ross said. "Currently, these factors have resulted in US foundries operating at the lowest level since 2008."
In 2012, the state Department of Commerce issued a press release announcing Crown's arrival to the Lakelands. The company produced bronze, ductile and gold castings for a range of industries including agriculture, HVAC and medicine.
As part of the move, the state Coordinating Council for Economic Development awarded Crown a $100,000 grant to be issued when hiring targets were met. It wasn't clear Tuesday whether the incentive was paid out.
Ross said the final day of business at the plant was Sept. 30. Although a flyer for employment opportunities remains attached to the business's main entrance, the doors are locked and offices visible through windows appear to have been cleared out.
"We wish our employees well and thank them for their efforts," Ross said.
Several pieces of equipment have been taken out of the factory and sit in a side lot for shipping and receiving.
According to county property records, Crown paid $293,227 in taxes in 2015. The 103,270-square-foot facility is located on 16 acres at 108 Corporate Court in the unincorporated part of Hodges.
Hodges Mayor Michael George said he was disappointed by the loss of jobs in his community.
"Any time you have a business close, you hate to hear that. We've got all these initiatives trying to bring good paying jobs into Greenwood (County)," he said.
Ann Skinner, director of workforce development at the Upper Savannah Council of Governments, said a job fair has been scheduled from 2-3 p.m. Oct. 12 at the SC Works office, 927 E. Cambridge Ave. to help ex-Crown employees learn about other job opportunities and retraining initiatives.
"While that specific meeting is for workers affected by Crown Castings, we are eager to help any worker who has been laid off," Skinner said. "There is a shortage of skilled manufacturing workers, so we want to help people connect with the businesses which are hiring."
County Councilman Bob Fisher, whose district includes Hodges, said he was disheartened at news of Crown's closure.
"It's always sad to hear of people losing their jobs, especially this close to the holiday season. It is my hope and prayer that all those employees will soon find gainful employment within our area," he said. "It is a marketable property is somebody would go through the trouble of cleaning it up correctly."