Ethan Allen laying off about 260 in Beecher Falls

By Wilson Ring
Associated Press Writer / June 25, 2009
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MONTPELIER, Vt.—Ethan Allen Interiors Inc. is laying off 238 workers at a plant near the Canadian border, but will keep a sawmill and dimension mill operating at the site where Vermont, New Hampshire and Quebec meet.

The layoffs in Beecher Falls are a huge blow to the region that for generations has made its living from the vast stretches of forest in Vermont and New Hampshire.

There are few other immediate employment opportunities for Ethan Allen's Vermont and New Hampshire workers who will lose their jobs at the end of August.

"The plant workers as well as area residents have been on pins and needles knowing that the furniture industry has been in a real slump," said state Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, R-Essex-Orleans, who represents Beecher Falls, a section of the town of Canaan.

Vermont Labor Commissioner Patricia Moulton-Powden said 93 workers would keep their jobs in Beecher Falls. A company statement Wednesday said the layoffs at Beecher Falls would be of approximately 260, but Moulton-Powden said Thursday the figure was 238.

"The word that we are hearing is that this is tied to the recession and they hope that as the economy recovers they'll be able to hire those folks back," she said.

Meanwhile, the state would work with the affected workers to ensure they had access to unemployment and health benefits and information that could help the individuals losing their jobs, she said.

Ethan Allen announced it would keep open a sawmill and dimension mill in Canaan and move to Vermont mill operations from a facility in Andover, Maine, putting 60 people out of work there.

"We very much regret the impact of this realignment to our Andover and affected Beecher Falls associates," Ethan Allen CEO Farooq Kathwari said in the statement. "This consolidation provides an opportunity to our remaining associates in Vermont to resume a more normal work schedule."

Furniture assembly operations that had been conducted in Beecher Falls will be moved to an Ethan Allen plant in Orleans.

According to Ethan Allen's 2008 annual report, the Danbury, Conn.-based company operates 10 manufacturing and five distribution facilities in North Carolina, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Oklahoma, California, New Jersey, Indiana and Maine and Mexico.

The company has been one of the economic engines of northeastern Vermont, an area known as the Northeast Kingdom, which has few manufacturing jobs, especially in the remote area along the Canada and New Hampshire borders.

Together, the town of Canaan and the adjacent community of Stewartstown, N.H., have a population of about 2,000.

Illuzzi said the layoffs wouldn't create an immediate crisis because the employees live in an area where "the standard of living is relatively modest."

But the long-term economic prospects for the area are uncertain.

Moulton-Powden said the loss of 238 jobs could be more easily absorbed in other parts of the state.

"When it happens in these rural areas and you have industries that have been a mainstay of the economy for years, it clearly is a bigger blow," she said.