Last week, the 133 workers at the Northwestern Industries glass factory near Seattle’s Fishermen’s Terminal thought they were out of a job.
Because of sagging demand for high-end “architectural” glass, employees were told, the 45-year-old company was being sold and production shifted to Arizona. The factory, which has made glass for Amazon’s Spheres, the Washington State Convention Center and other iconic structures in the region, would close in a matter of months.
But on Monday, after days of behind-the-scenes negotiations, employees got much better news: Thanks to a last-minute bid from a rival glass firm, Hartung Glass Industries of Tukwila, the Northwestern Industries factory will stay open for at least a year while a new site for the operation is found in the south Puget Sound region, officials at both companies said.
Workers “were pretty relieved,” said swing-shift manager Terry Reynolds, who, along with other Northwestern Industries colleagues, had been stunned by the Dec. 30 announcement that the plant was closing.
Nick Sciola, owner of Hartung Glass, declined to comment on the deal, details of which were still being worked out Wednesday afternoon. But Matt Attebery, general manager for Hartung’s Washington operations, confirmed that the glass fabricator, which has seven plants across the western U.S. and Canada, was “in very serious discussions that will hopefully lead to an acquisition. The timing is imminent.”
The deal with Hartung, if it goes through, follows a decision by the company’s corporate parent, Tokyo-based Central Glass, to exit the architectural glass business, in part, because industry forecasters expect the nearly decadelong global construction boom to begin to cool in 2020, according to Joe Hawley, Northwestern Industries’ president.
That expected slowdown is likely to translate into flat or even slightly falling demand for architectural glass worldwide, including in the western U.S. markets that Northwestern Industries depends on, Hawley said.
Central Glass found a buyer — Glasswerks Los Angeles — but the California-based firm was interested only in Northwestern Industries’ second plant, in Yuma, Arizona. The Seattle property, assessed recently at more than $30 million, according to Hawley, was too costly to be operated profitably as a factory, Hawley said.
As a result, Hawley said, Glasswerks planned to move much of the Seattle equipment to the Yuma plant, and offered Seattle employees jobs there.
But soon after the sale was announced last week, Hawley said, he received word that Hartung was interested in buying the Seattle portion of Northwestern Industries from Glasswerks.
Officials at Hartung and Northwestern Industries declined to disclose the price or other terms of the sale, which will not include the Seattle property and will leave the Yuma outlet of Northwestern Industries under Glasswerks’ ownership.
There was no decision about whether the Seattle property, which is zoned for industrial use, would be sold or what it would be used for next.
A sale to Hartung would give the Tukwila company, which makes commercial and residential glass, expanded capacity to serve the Northwest market. It would also give the workforce at Northwestern Industries — which is well-regarded for its skills on large, high-quality projects — a way to stay employed in the glass-making industry without moving to Arizona.
“I’ve never had to look for a job,” said Reynolds, 61, who started with Northwestern Industries 41 years ago and had planned to stay until his retirement. “I wasn’t looking forward to going out and filling out a resume.”