ZEELAND, Mich. (WOOD) - For the first time in company history, Gentex Corporation isinvoluntarily laying off workers.
Between 350 and 400 salaried and hourly employees have been laidoff effective immediately, the maker of automotive rear-viewmirrors announced Friday. The permanent layoffs represent about 15percent of the 2,600 employed prior to the layoffs at the firm'sZeeland headquarters. Gentex is the largest single employer in thecity.
For Lavonne Vermurlen, the layoffs ended her 20 years of serviceat Gentex.
"Just devastation. I didn't know what to do," Vermurlen recalledin an interview with 24 Hour News 8. "My boss said, 'Just come withme,' and they told me it was a permanent layoff."
In a statement, Gentex attributed the cuts to the staggeringdecline in vehicle sales around the world.
"We are saddened that we've had to resort to layoffs, but thethree major automotive markets in the world are all now in arecession," Senior Vice President Enoch Jen said in thestatement.
Citing research from CSM Worldwide, the statement noted thatvehicle production in North America, Japan and South Korea haddeclined two percent more than the most recent projections. InEurope, production declined by another 13 percent.
Gentex will put in place "extended shutdowns to match thecompany's customers' planned shutdowns over the Christmas and NewYear holidays" as well, according to the statement.
Roughly 10 laid-off Gentex employees walked into the MichiganWorks office in Holland Friday, including Vermurlen.
"I'm coming here just to see what my options are. Just to startout. I don't even know where to begin," she said.
Vermurlen, a lab technician, thought her job was safe. Sheworked in a specialized field for an automotive firm that hadbested competitors by diversifying. Gentex gets most of its workfrom companies headquartered overseas.
"I'm proud to say it, but it sounds funny. We didn't even have alayoff policy until two months ago," said Bruce Los, the firm'svice president for human resources.
Friday's announcement is evidence of not only how interconnectedthe auto industry still is but also the worldwide nature of theauto industry's woes.
"Not that we didn't know this, but obviously, it means that thecity of Zeeland is not immune to what's going on in the autoindustry," City Manager Tim Klunder told 24 Hour News 8.
He said the firm kept city leaders in the loop about issues inthe industry.
"The announcement didn't catch us completely by surprise,"Klunder said, but noted that the firm had not shared the number ofpotential layoffs prior to Friday's announcement.
A company spokeswoman acknowledged the failure of one of the BigThree automakers could have a domino effect. The failure of one ofthe domestic firms could topple a supplier. And since suppliers forGeneral Motors, Ford and Chrysler also supply for foreign-basedfirms, companies like Toyota, Honda and Nissan could suffer aswell.
Still, the spokeswoman said she believed Gentex could sustainitself through the crisis and that further cuts should not berequired to do so.
Reductions in the salaried workforce are expected to save Gentex$6 million. Prior to Friday's move, the firm cut 100 contractworkers and eliminated its third shift.
Jen said the firm does have enough cash to sustain itselfthrough the economic downturn, adding that Gentex has no debt. Thevast majority of the company's workforce is employed at the Zeelandheadquarters. Roughly 100 people are employed at facilitiesoverseas, a company spokeswoman told 24 Hour News 8.
We get a brief break from the "lake-effect machine" Friday.
A few flurries occurred Thursday night. Lows held in the teens and the wind relaxed to the 5 to 10 mph range, with 20s at the Lake Michigan.
On Thursday, the medical examiner's office said CMU student Kelly Markatos died as a result of the eating disorder bulimia.