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64 jobs vanish with shutdown

B&T Rebuilders is closing its Port Richey facility. The state and a work force group will help employees find new jobs.

Company officials say 64 people will lose their jobs in May when an Arkansas auto parts manufacturer closes its Stone Road facility.

B&T Rebuilders, which makes compressors for automotive air-conditioning systems, is moving its operations to Hope, Ark., where parent company Champion Parts is located, general manager Gene Leslie said Thursday.

Leslie declined to elaborate on the decision other than to say it will save money as part of the company's recent economic restructuring plan.

"We had a very good workforce out there," Leslie said of the Pasco facility. The decision to close "had to do with economics."

Champion Parts purchased B&T in 2001, he said. Bill Peake was the original owner, said John Walsh, vice president of the Pasco Economic Development Council.

Champion Parts, which makes a variety of electrical and mechanical products for the automotive industry, will close the Port Richey operation May 14. The company notified the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation of its decision Wednesday.

Monesia Brown, the agency's director, said in a statement that the state and the Pasco-Hernando Regional Workforce Board are trying to help the employees find new jobs.

Officials are on site to help workers file claims for unemployment assistance, create resumes and identify potential employers through a new online service called Employ Florida Marketplace, she said.

"We will continue to work diligently to meet the employment needs of our fellow Floridians," she said.

B&T Rebuilders leased the 37,000 square feet at the Stone Road facility, Leslie said. In Arkansas, the company owns a plant with more than 300,000 square feet.

Pasco EDC did not have any indication that the company would close, Walsh said. EDC's last contact with the company was about a year ago when an agency official visited the site to talk about training programs.

"It's never good when you've got people laid off," he said. "But if we can identify their skills and experience ... we'll have an easier time trying to find them other employment."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at (727) 869-6247 or