By ROGER SCHNEIDER
---- — NAPPANEE — One-hundred sixty jobs will be lost when a contract for ABC Companies ends in September. But some of the ABC employees may be able to move to new operations building double-decker buses or small and mid-sized shuttle and specialty buses.
ABC announced Monday it will close its factory at 504 S. Oakland Ave, building 12, by Sept. 15. The company leases the facility from Fleetwood. The workers there have been refurbishing high-mileage interstate buses for Greyhound since 2010.
The new double-decker bus contract will be fulfilled in a different, nearby factory. According to Jon Savitz, senior vice president of business development for ABC, the new contract will require about 60 workers initially. That contract is with Alexander Dennis of Edinburgh, Scotland.
“This was a project to refurbish Greyhound buses that were a certain age and vintage and we have run through the entire population of those buses,” Savitz said.
ABC will now begin ramping up operations for the Alexander Dennis contract this fall.
“By the end of the year,” Savitz said, “we should employ about 80 or 90 people in that operation.”
Alexander Dennis’ e400 bus, a two-axle, energy-efficient bus and the e500 bus, a three-axle vehicle, will be assembled in Nappanee. Alexander Dennis supplies transit buses to several North American cities, including Toronto and Las Vegas, according to Savitz. The buses are also used in the tourist trade, such as found in Chicago’s Loop.
ABC also owns Ameritrans in Elkhart, which makes small and mid-sized buses at a factory along Ada Drive on the city’s north side. Savitz expects a few of ABC workers in Nappanee will be able to placed with Ameritrans.
ABC Companies is based in Minnesota and operates 11 facilities nationwide.
Nappanee Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Kitson was busy Wednesday answering questions from the media.
He said the community knew that at some point the Greyhound contract for ABC would come to an end, but when the news came, it was still sad.
“It will be difficult to not see the Greyhound buses drive in or be towed in and then go back out (refurbished),” Kitson said.
Nappanee is no longer the place where an announcement like this one is part of a series of bad employment news. The city has been riding the wave of the boom in recreational vehicle production and along Oakland Avenue and throughout the city’s industrial parks, there are “help wanted” signs posted at the many RV plants.
“We hear it all the time,” Kitson said, “workers are needed, workers are needed.”
He said the Chamber will be working with ABC to get news of local job openings to employees.
Kitson also praised the leadership of ABC Companies, saying the company provided a lot of training for its workers and also became involved in the community while also running a good operation that respected the local work force. He said people present at Monday’s announcement told him some workers shook hands with company officials and thanked them for providing jobs.
“That speaks highly of who we are in Nappanee and the company,” Kitson said.
In the end, he said, the city and the workers will recover from the loss.
“It’s a bump in the road,” Kitson said. “Nappanee has always been good at coming together when there is a bump in the road. The people come together and smooth things out.”