Company intends to maintain a presence in Michigan City; Move likely to leave about 170 people out of work.

SPX Corp., corporate parent of Weil-McLain, announced it will close the boiler manufacturer's Benton Harbor, Mich., facility by next year and also shut down assembly operations at its Michigan City, Ind., plant, which the company has used since 1921.

The Benton Harbor decision, made June 28, affects almost 50 people whose last day at work will eventually be July 31, 2005. The local union that represents the workers, however, expects layoffs to begin during the last quarter of this year. The Benton Harbor plant makes sheet metal jackets, which are then sent to the Michigan City plant where the boilers are made.

Local news reports included union speculation that the jackets and other parts made at Benton Harbor will either be made by another company in the United States or outsourced to China. SPX spokeswoman Tina Betlejewski said the company is exploring alternatives for the sheet metal production.

By the end of the week, employees at Weil-McLain's Michigan City plant learned that assembly operations would leave town by 2005, a move likely to leave about 170 people out of work.

Weil-McLain President Steve Zeller said on July 2 the company will establish a new assembly plant near the Virginia and North Carolina border. The Michigan City facility will close once the new factory is operational, which should be in early 2005.

Zeller said the company had outgrown the Michigan City facility. However, the assembly shutdown will not affect Weil-McLain's other departments. The company's headquarters, foundry and machining operations will remain in Michigan City. Total employment at the Indiana site is approximately 350 people.

Zeller was quoted in the local newspaper, The News Dispatch, saying the company intends to maintain a presence in Michigan City.

"We have a world-class engineering department and an outstanding foundry," Zeller said. "We have no desire to go anywhere else with those. We have a lot of key skills here. All areas of the business are very difficult to replicate somewhere else."

In a July 2 letter to Weil-McLain suppliers, Mike DiPaolo, vice president/global supply chain management, said the new assembly facility will improve the company's ability "to supply customers the products they want, when they want them, where they want them, faster and better than ever before."

Weil-McLain began in Chicago in 1881 by Isadore Weil. After acquiring his main supplier, J.H. McLain Co. in 1918, Weil moved the boiler plant to Michigan City. In more recent times, United Dominion bought the company in 1993. In turn, SPX bought United Dominion in 2001.