JENNY PETER, Vincennes Sun-Commercial

Most of the Futaba Indiana of America Corp. employees who went on temporary layoff in August won't be coming back to work for the Toyota parts manufacturer located in the U.S. 41 Industrial Park south of the city.

Originally, 104 workers were allowed to take a voluntary furlough this summer, with the intention of bringing them back in November. But the automotive climate has worsened, and now 63 of those workers won't be coming back, said Dan Stoelb, FIA's plant manager.

"It was not an easy decision to make and it was not made lightly," Stoelb wrote in a statement released to the Sun-Commercial. "But it was a necessary decision."

Gary Gentry, president of the Knox County Development Corp., was disappointed by the news but hopeful for FIA's future.

"If there's one person able-bodied and ready to work and is out of work, I don't feel good about that," he said. "You can never feel good about anyone not having employment.

"But the long-term future for FIA looks very good. They have been a very highly regarded supplier to Toyota both in terms of time and quality, and I think that will serve them well as the market recovers. While it's very unfortunate, and no one likes to see it, I'm hoping we'll see those 63 (jobs) and even more rehired sometime in the not-so-distance future."

Kent Utt, second vice president of the KCDC board, said he, too, was still hopeful that those jobs would be replaced by others.

Golden Rule Insurance Company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Indianapolis-based UnitedHealthcare, is expanding its current Willow Street location and will add 200 jobs over the next three years.

In addition, Superior Essex Inc. has delayed its closing, and Duke Energy's plans to build a $2.35 billion coal-gasification plant in Edwardsport will bring hundreds of jobs to Knox County, Utt said.

"Essex, it's looking like, won't be releasing as many people as anticipated," Utt said. "In fact, I think they've extended (their closing) for another year. And I think that Golden Rule is another great positive that will pick up service industry type jobs with above market wages."

Mayor Al Baldwin also was optimistic about the future of the economy.

"The (new middle) school project will bring construction jobs, and Duke is getting ready to fire up," he said. "We have good things in store coming up.

"There's no reason to be depressed. We've got some good things happening in the community."

Toyota announced in September that the manufacture of the Tundra pick-up would be shifted from the Princeton plant to one in Texas, and company officials forecasted that sales of both the Sequoia SUV and Sienna mini van, models that are manufactured at Princeton for which FIA manufactures parts, would be low.

Stoelb said all 63 employees will go onto a list, and Futaba will draw from that list for the next six months if there is a need for additional workers. Any employee selected to return will be paid at the same rate as they were getting at the time they were laid off and with the same medical benefits.

All employees who took the voluntary layoff were paid by FIA unemployment benefits and retained 100 percent of their health insurance premiums, Stoelb said.

Despite the layoffs, Stoelb thought Futaba's future hopeful. The company will supply parts to the Georgetown, Ky., plant for the new Toyota Venza, a new model being introduced this month. They also will be supplying parts for the Highlander, which will be produced at the Princeton plant sometime next year.

They will also be a supplier for the redesigned Sienna, which also could be launched as soon as next fall.

In addition to the new or changing product lines, FIA plans to add two 300-ton presses to its current stamping operations. The first press will be installed in December and the second in February.

FIA began operations in the industrial park in early 2003, with 75 employees in a 235,000 square foot facility. Within five years, the plant had almost doubled in size and had increased its workforce to some 500 employees.

In April FIA was named the Knox County Chamber of Commerce "Industry of the Year."
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