SANTA ANA — A&E Systems, a recreational vehicle awning and equipment manufacturer that in May employed 400 people in Orange County, will close its plant here by the end of the month in part because of strict regional air pollution regulations.
The company has been gradually laying off workers in the past three months and fewer than 50 workers remain at the plant. Manufacturing at the facility, which is up for lease, ceased Aug. 10.
Company officials would not comment on the closing. But employees said the operations will be moved to La Grange, Ind., near the headquarters of A&E's parent, Dometic Corp., which is based in Elkhart, Ind. Dometic is owned by AB Electrolux, a Swedish company.
Workers said they were told that the closing was prompted by the high cost of doing business in California, particularly environmental protection requirements imposed on manufacturing operations in Southern California.
A&E, which makes awnings, satellite dishes, hydraulic steps and balancing equipment for recreational vehicles, was under pressure to adhere to strict regulations on spray painting and metal coating imposed by the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
A company source said A&E expects to save more $2 million a year, which also includes tax savings, by going to Indiana.
Betty Nelson, manager of the state Employment Development Department office in Santa Ana, said the A&E closure is the largest that has been reported to her office since a federal law went into effect in February, 1989, requiring companies to give their employees, EDD and local government representatives at least 60 days' advance notice of major layoffs and plant shutdowns.
"Basically, in Orange County what is closing down are manufacturing operations like this while the service industry expands," Nelson said.
Nelson said EDD has been running a program with A&E's assistance to obtain new employment or retraining for the laid-off workers.
"The company has been extremely cooperative. They really seem to care about what happens to their employees," said Nelson, noting that EDD is still trying to assist 278 of the employees, most of whom were low-paid machine operators or assembly workers.
Finding new employment for them, she said, is very difficult because the kinds of jobs that match their skills and experience are shrinking in the county and because many of the workers do not speak English.
Nelson said there is special federal funding available to victims of plant closures that enables them to learn English, train for a new occupation and seek new employment while continuing to collect unemployment insurance benefits.