Rogersville plant to close  in 2021

Correction: The original version of this incorrectly stated that the Cooper Standard Automotive plant was also closing. Cooper Standard announced a layoff of 86 people in recent weeks. The Citizen Tribune apologizes for the error. This story has been corrected.

One of Rogersville’s oldest plants will close its doors at the end of 2021, costing 200 jobs.

ZF Automotive, located on U.S. 11W in Rogersville, told employees Thursday that both that plant and the plant in Atkins, Virginia will cease operations in 2021 due to the expiration of contracts.

For much of its 47-year history, ZF was known as TRW Automotive before their merger with ZF. The Atkins location has been open for 28 years.

John Wilkerson, senior communications manager for corporate communications with ZF North America, Inc. in Northville, Michigan, confirmed the closing in an email Friday morning.

“I can confirm that (Thursday) ZF announced the closure of its Rogersville, Tennessee, and Marion, Virginia (Atkins Virginia area) steering manufacturing facilities,” Wilkerson said. “This difficult decision was reached because the plant’s major business contracts are ending with little significant replacement business secured.”

Approximately 200 employees will lose their jobs in Rogersville while 50 to 60 people will be unemployed by the Atkins plant closing.

“Rogersville is expected to close at the end of 2021 and Marion at the end of 2022. We will be assisting employees in seeking employment as the plant production reaches an end,” Wilkerson said.

The ZF facilities in Rogersville and Atkins produce steering gears primarily for light passenger vehicles with some steering gears for commercial vehicles being produced in Rogersville. The plants largest customers are General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

News of the closing of the ZF facility is hitting Hawkins County hard, as Cooper Standard Automotive in Surgoinsville recently announced a layoff of 86 people.

Hawkins County Industrial Development Board Chairman Larry Elkins was “absolutely amazed” when he heard the plant closing news on Thursday.

“It’s devastating,” Elkins said. “(ZF/TRW) has been a mainstay for 47 years in Rogersville. That was the best paying place in East Tennessee. This is devastating to our local economy. It’s hurting all over us.

“I know they had to shut down and lay off over COVID-19,” Elkins said. “It’s a bad situation all the way around.”

Elkins said that future course of action is “anybody’s guess.”

“Right now it’s anybody’s guess on what the course of action is,” he said. “I want to sit down with TVA, NETWORKS, and the state to see what it would take to keep the plant here. The decision has probably already been made, but sometimes you can respark.”

Elkins referred to the recent announcement of the Domtar paper plant in Kingsport as an example of keeping a tenant in an area by retooling and refocusing operations.

“The Domtar pant is a good example of keeping jobs,” Elkins said. “There won’t be as many employees, but they were able to work something out to retool. We’ve already been on the phone with ZF this morning. We’ll see how it goes. We want to keep the current tenants if at all possible.”

Elkins said that he had hoped that after the pandemic, ZF would get more contracts.

“They have a huge presence in Mexico and Europe,” he said. “I have a feeling that their business is heading in those directions.”

When the plant was built, it was originally intended to be a Burlington textile plant in 1973. However, Burlington shifted all production overseas, making the plant obsolete.

“It was an absolute miracle when the Industrial Board sold the building to TRW,” Elkins said. “The building didn’t have floors and TRW was able to fit it to their needs. In regards to selling the building, a building with no floors is a lot easier to sell. We’re going to try our best to do something with it.”