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DHL moving cargo jobs from Ohio to Kentucky

By James Hannah
Associated Press Writer / April 17, 2009
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WILMINGTON, Ohio—For thousands of workers at the Wilmington Air Park and residents of this southwestern Ohio city, it was news they had been expecting, but dreading.

DHL Express said Friday it has decided to move U.S. hub operations for its international business from Wilmington to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport by mid- to late summer to save money.

DHL originally announced it was planning to leave nearly a year ago, when about 8,000 workers were employed at the air park. About 3,500 workers remain, and Wilmington Mayor David Raizk estimates that at least half will lose their jobs when DHL leaves.

Wilmington, a city of 12,000, has drawn national attention as a vivid example of the economic struggles of small U.S. communities during the recession, and both presidential candidates discussed its plight last year.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Friday urged President Barack Obama to appoint a senior official to coordinate the federal response to the situation.

Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, whose district includes Wilmington, criticized DHL for walking away, but said, "I know the community is resilient and will recover."

Raizk said everything will be done to help the laid-off workers and those about to be laid off.

"These are our neighbors. These are our friends," he said. "We go to church with them. We participates in clubs with them. We will not forget them."

In May, DHL said it was pulling out of the site in Wilmington and hiring UPS Inc. to sort and fly DHL packages in the United States. In March, DHL said its agreement to negotiate exclusively with UPS had expired and that DHL was talking with other carriers, raising a glimmer of hope among some in Wilmington that the company might stay.

But on Friday DHL said it will reactivate its automated sorting facility at the northern Kentucky airport instead. DHL had used the Kentucky facility from 1983 until its move to Ohio in 2005.

The move "will be more cost-effective for handling the company's international express shipping volumes, and is expected to improve DHL's long-term financial position," DHL said in a statement.

Disappointed Wilmington workers were told of DHL's final decision at midnight Thursday, said truck driver Mitchell Adams.

"But it's not like we haven't been under this cloud for a while," Adams said. "Everybody is upset. We're all being professional about it."

He said working at the Cincinnati-area airport isn't an option for him. He lives in Jeffersonville, Ohio, more than 70 miles away.

"Job hunting at my age is not going to be fun," said Adams, 58, who intends to seek a job as a truck driver.

ABX Air, a contractor that flies and sorts cargo for DHL, has about 2,750 employees in Wilmington.

ABX spokeswoman Beth Huber said DHL's move is expected to cost ABX 1,000 to 1,500 jobs depending on what services DHL may still want the company to perform, such as container repair. Some ABX employees are expected to catch on with a startup aircraft maintenance company at the airport that is expected to initially employ up to 300 workers.

DHL already has 200 employees in northern Kentucky and expects to add some 180 full-time positions and 650 part-time jobs there, said DHL spokesman Jonathan Baker. All current and former Wilmington employees were being encouraged to apply for jobs at the airport in Hebron, Ky., more than 50 miles southwest of Wilmington.

James Hamilton, a sorter at the airport who has worked for DHL for the past 14 years, said he won't apply for a DHL job in Kentucky because most of them will be part-time.

"I wouldn't be able to support a family," said Hamilton, 36, of Wilmington.

Dan Tobergte, president of Tri-Ed, Northern Kentucky's leading economic development agency, said Kentucky and local authorities will give DHL nearly $2 million in tax credit incentives.

Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher said he is disappointed that DHL didn't give Ohio a chance to offer financial incentives to keep the company in Wilmington despite "repeated outreach."

Baker said DHL made a reasoned decision based on all cost and operating factors, which included its incentive experience with Ohio and other state incentive opportunities.

Both Fisher and Raizk urged DHL to turn the air park over to the community so another business or businesses can be brought in. Fisher said his talks with DHL on Friday lead him to believe that DHL remains open to that possibility and that meaningful discussions will begin almost immediately.

The announcement came as Ohio officials reported that the state's unemployment rate in March rose to a 25-year high, 9.7 percent.

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Associated Press reporters Dan Sewell and Terry Kinney in Cincinnati contributed.