Posted by Gail Waterhouse February 4, 2010 10:00 AM
Globe file photoA keystone Somerville company's fate is signed, sealed and delivered: Ames Safety Envelope has been sold. The new owner is TAB, a Wisconsin-based records management company with offshoots in Europe, Canada, and Australia. TAB president Bill Graham confirmed the sale in an e-mail. Over the next six to nine months, all manufacturing will move to Wisconsin, cutting about 150 Somerville jobs; customer service and sales will remain in the Boston area.
Ames was founded in 1919 and moved to Somerville in the 1930s. However, CEO Bill Shea said in a statement on the Somerville Chamber of Commerce website, "Computer-driven digital solutions have increasingly replaced the company's principal markets of X-ray and medical filing products. In addition, the Northeast has become an expensive area to operate a manufacturing operation. Unfortunately, a number of the company's endeavors to supplement the product downturn have been unsuccessful."
"It's sad. Ames was a family-owned and -operating business in the city," said Chamber president/CEO Stephen Mackey. The group named its lifetime achievement award after Ames founder John W. Fitzgerald, who was also the first chairman of the chamber's board.
At one time, Ames was the city's biggest business employer, Mackey said, with 500 workers and several buildings off Somerville Avenue. (The top three employers were the city, Tufts, and Cambridge Health Alliance.) With downsizing in recent years, the company leased some of its factory space to small companies such as First Act Guitar.
Immigrant health advocates praised Ames's care for worker safety. It also inspired at least one poet.
Is Somerville manufacturing approaching its last gasp? A number of recent city plans, including Union Square rezoning and preliminary discussion of the Inner Belt, aim to shift out industry for businesses that pay more in taxes. Mackey said that the cost of living and energy prices herald heavy industry's continued decline across the Commonwealth.
"The key in the transition is to keep your tax base producing,'' he said. "So you don't want to toss out anything prematurely."