Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Business

VLOC to shutter Pasco manufacturing plant, lay off dozens

TRINITY — High-tech manufacturer VLOC Inc. will shut down and lay off dozens of employees by the end of the year, capping almost 20 years in Pasco.

Mark Maiberger, general manager for military business at VLOC's parent company, Saxonburg, Pa.-based II-VI, said "across-the-board" cuts in VLOC's defense contracting business prompted the decision.

"It's not just one program. It's cuts in multiple programs," Maiberger said.

About 70 workers are employed at VLOC's 60,000-square-foot manufacturing plant off Photonics Drive in Trinity. VLOC's workers earn on average more than $50,000 a year, according to county officials.

Employees were told about the closing late last week. County officials said they heard about it soon after, as did competitors who took calls from VLOC workers looking for jobs.

"Obviously, it's a sign of what's happening in the industry," said John Walsh, of the county's Economic Development Council.

VLOC makes high-performance optical parts for the defense, security and aerospace industries. Records in a federal procurement database show VLOC held about two dozen contracts with NASA, the Air Force, the Army and other government agencies since 2002. The company opened in 1996.

VLOC also owns a plant with about a dozen workers in Port Richey that makes crystals. Maiberger said II-VI officials are still reviewing plans for that plant.

Two bay area companies — Port Richey-based Twin Star Optics, Coatings & Crystals and Quality Thin Films of Oldsmar — said they heard about the closing when VLOC employees called to ask whether they had openings.

"It's real sad. They have like 80 people all losing their jobs," Twin Star general manager Mark Gruttadauria said.

Like Gruttadauria, Karl George Jr., general manager of Quality Thin Films, said he had spoken with several VLOC workers and plans to hire some.

The closing isn't a complete surprise. This spring, VLOC executives approached Pasco County officials about incentives to stay in Trinity after announcing a possible merger with LightWorks Optical Systems, a California-based manufacturer also owned by II-VI.

County commissioners voted in March to offer II-VI a $332,000 incentive package — or $4,000 for each of the 83 workers then employed at the Trinity location. The offer was the first by Pasco not intended to lure a company but to keep one from leaving.

Walsh said II-VI executives reviewed the package for months but for reasons not made clear to him, "it never seemed to gain traction."

The agreement would have required VLOC to stay in Pasco at least four years. If the company left before then, it would be required to return the money.

Maiberger said officials were considering the proposal when they learned about further defense spending cuts.

"It would have been nice to stay in Florida," he said, adding that the company will try to relocate some employees. Workers will know more about VLOC's last day in about a month.

County officials, meanwhile, said losing VLOC is a blow to south Pasco's economy.

A report in March by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council found that if VLOC left, the impact would cause a $5.7 million loss in annual spending.

"I am disappointed that they're leaving," Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said. "I know the county offered them a very good package. I'd like to hear the reasons why so we can learn and improve, so this doesn't happen again."

Contact Rich Shopes at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236. Follow @richshopes.

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