Eagle Ottawa Plans Renovation Worker Recall

June 5, 2002
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GRAND HAVEN — Eagle Ottawa Leather Co. is looking to improve the operating efficiency and appearance of its aging facility.

General Manager Scott Guernsey recently began looking at how the company can renovate the triangular-shaped facility along the Grand River to bring production equipment under one roof and generate precious cost savings. The resulting improvements in operating efficiency will enable Eagle Ottawa to better compete in an era where automakers are constantly squeezing costs out of their suppliers, Guernsey said.

“I’m just looking at getting more efficient right now,” Guernsey said. “The ultimate game is being competitive. This stuff will help.”

“Even with old facilities and high costs, we will get to where we have to go to staying in Grand Haven.”

Eagle Ottawa, a subsidiary of Milwaukee, Wisc.-based Albert Trostel & Sons Inc., supplies leather for automotive seating to foreign and domestic automakers. The company expects to begin recalling laid-off workers this month. The company since December was forced to cut its workforce and production in half because of slumping auto sales.

Guernsey expects to gradually bring the production workforce back to 210 people throughout the spring.

 

Dating back to 1866, Eagle Ottawa’s Grand Haven plant is capable of processing 18,000 hides a week. The plant, portions of which date back several decades, cleans, dries, conditions and dyes cow hides, which are sent on to other plants in Mexico and Rochester Hills, Mich., for cutting and finishing.

Guernsey hopes to have a plan for the facility’s renovation formulated within two months. The effort includes investigating what kind of assistance the company can receive from the state to help finance refurbishing the plant, including exterior improvements such as landscaping the grounds and repairing and painting the facade.

“It’s going to take the existing building and make it look a lot better,” Guernsey said. “It’s old and it needs to be maintained. We want to make this not look like a tired site.”

Guernsey also wants to work with the city of Grand Haven on a plan to extend a road adjacent to the factory site, as well as a public boardwalk along the Grand River. In return for help in exploring and securing financial assistance to rehabilitate the factory, the tannery potentially could provide land for the city to accomplish both projects, Guernsey said.

“I’ll work with them if they’ll work with me,” he said.

Joy Gaasch, executive director of the Association of Commerce and Industry in Grand Haven, said there are programs available to assist the tannery. Tapping them depends on how well Eagle Ottawa’s plans are tied to the city’s, Gaasch said.

“It needs to fit into not only the plan of the company but of the community,” she said.               

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