Employees at ZF TRW in Atkins learned on Thursday that the company will permanently close the plant at the end of 2022.
ZF, formerly TRW, currently has around 50 to 60 employees who will be affected by the closure. Its sister plant in Rogersville, Tenn., which employees about 200 people, will close at the end of 2021.
The plant, which manufactures steering gears for passenger vehicles, has been a large employer in Smyth County for 28 years and had been lauded for its comeback after the Great Recession and celebrated by county leaders for the company’s investment in the plant.
ZF spokesperson John Wilkerson said the decision to close the plant comes as its primary business contracts are set to expire with little significant replacement business secured.
The plant has experienced several rounds of layoffs in the last few years.
Wilkerson said the company will assist employees in seeking other employment as plant production reaches an end.
In August 2016, the 73,000-square-foot Atkins plant employed 330 people.
After the Great Recession, the plant switched from manufacturing hydraulic steering units to electric power steering (EPS) systems, supplying Ford and General Motors.
County Administrator Shawn Utt said, “The potential loss of ZF… will be a big hit to the county’s economy but a bigger hit to our citizens who work there. It’s unfortunate news to hear but the company has been very resilient in the past and we hope they can weather the pending storm and choose not to ultimately close. The county staff and economic development partners will do all we can to support those that lose their jobs.”
Utt added, “It is certainly sad and hopefully we can help the company between now and the end of 2022 to prevent the closure.”
The manufacturing plant did rebound after the depths of the recession when a skeleton crew of about 20 kept operations going and the future seemed uncertain. However, by 2013, employees numbered 350 and the plant planned to ship 1.4 million steering units that year. It was the county’s top payer of its machinery & tools tax. That same year, the Southwest Virginia Technology Council honored TRW’s dramatic comeback with its High Tech Excellence in Advanced Manufacturing Award.
By its 25th anniversary in 2016, county officials praised the TRW for investing $25 million into the plant.
TRW Automotive Holdings Group was acquired by German auto supplier ZF Friedrichsafen AG in 2015.
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