Bennington Officials Upbeat For Composite Industry Despite Closure Of Plasan Plant

Feb 21, 2014

Officials in Bennington say the closing of Plasan Carbon Composites next spring won’t dampen the town’s hopes to serve as a hub for the carbon composites industry.

The plant, which manufactures parts for the automotive industry, announced on Thursday that it planned to move to Michigan, eliminating 143 jobs.

Plasan is an offshoot of an Israeli company with two plants in Bennington. Both use carbon fiber as a lighter, stronger alternative to steel.

Plasan North America, which makes armor for military vehicles, opened its first U.S. plant in Bennington to qualify for government contracts.

The company later opened a second Bennington plant, which makes parts for high-priced sports cars.

The town has seen these businesses as the core of a "carbon composite cluster" that could add new business to Bennington's industrial base. Town Manager Stuart Hurd doesn't think that vision is going to change.

Bennington Town Manager Stuart Hurd said only one, the automotive facility plant will be moving.

“It’s disappointing but not surprising when you think about it,” Hurd said.

In 2011, the company moved its research and development arm to Michigan to be closer to the automotive industry. It later built a Michigan-based manufacturing plant.

Plasan said at the time that its Bennington plant would stay open. But Hurd says the reversal makes sense.

“They need to move closer to their markets  and they need to consolidate their engineering division and their R & D division to become more cost efficient,” he said.

Hurd said Plasan has assured him that the company’s armor division will remain in town. Bennington is also home to Kaman composites, which makes carbon fiber equipment for hospitals and the aerospace industry.

The town has seen these businesses as the core of a “carbon composite cluster” that could add new business to Bennington’s industrial base. Hurd doesn’t think that vision is going to change.

“Because the other two composite manufacturers are in different fields,” he said. “Certainly the automotive market is not here… But there’s no reason, as long as the transportation costs (are competitive) and the ability to get their materials to market, for the other composites to look elsewhere.”

Michael Harrington, Bennington’s director of economic development, said Plasan’s closing is a setback.

“But I don’t think it signifies a larger trend or takes any legitimacy away from what our current composite cluster can offer,” he said.

On Friday, a group of Bennington business leaders and municipal and school officials held an emergency meeting. Harrington said they discussed how Bennington can make the most of whatever state resources are available to help the town recover.

The local group also plans to talk with officials from Plasan about the local workforce and how it can be improved.

But Plasan Carbon Composites President James Staargaard says the quality of the local workforce had nothing to do with the decision to relocate.

“They’ve been terrific,” he said. “This consolidation is not a reflection upon anything to do with the people of Bennington, the workforce in Bennington or anything like that.”

The company has promised to offer its workers a generous benefits package.