BY JACLYN BRENNING, REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN
WATERTOWN — News that a major manufacturer will shut down operations struck local officials hard on Thursday.
DriveSol Worldwide Inc. said this week that it will close its Watertown facility, which employs 241 people. The company makes steering column shafts for the automobile industry.
"This affects the whole area," said Elaine Adams, chairman of the Town Council. "As a community we're reeling from this. My heart goes out to those people."
The shutdown could hit the town's grand list hard.
Records from the tax collector's office show the company is the third-largest taxpayer in Watertown. DriveSol still owes $414,072 in personal property taxes such as equipment. It also owes the town about $85,000 in real estate taxes.
It was not clear Thursday how employees will be affected.
The company, based out of Troy, Mich., filed a notice this week with the state giving a 60-day warning that the Watertown plant was closing. The notice said the company plans to shut down the plant "during the period of Dec. 15, 2008, and March 15, 2009."
"Obviously, it's a very difficult day for DriveSol, for the employees of the Greater Waterbury community, for the entire area," said Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown. "... It's a very serious crisis that we are going through. Between state government, the federal government, and the private sector, we need to figure this out."
Business flowed outside of the DriveSol Park Road plant Thursday afternoon. As vehicles drove in and out of the parking lot, one man stopped. He did not give his name, but said he had worked at the plant for nearly 20 years and was not being given a severance package.
Other workers were reluctant to talk about the shutdown.
Town officials and area legislators will meet with company officials on Monday to talk about options to keep the company alive.
Officials at DriveSol Worldwide headquarters in Michigan did not return calls seeking comment.
In a press release, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, said, "Unfortunately, right here in Watertown, we are seeing the direct consequences of the unprecedented instability of the American auto industry."
U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, D- Conn., said in a prepared statement that DriveSol's closing was a sign of troubled times.
"This is sad news for these workers and for Connecticut, but unfortunately it is not surprising," he said. "The news of DriveSol's closing is proof that this is not a Detroit issue or a Washington issue; it is an American issue that will have an impact in Connecticut and across the country."
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