WEATHERFORD — When Rob Rehkemper relocated from Alabama to Weatherford two and a half years ago to take an engineering opportunity with Imation, he'd hoped it was a position from which he could retire.
Instead, Rehkemper will lose his job when the plant, which manufacturers specially coated magnetic tape for data storage, closes at 5 p.m. today.
Oakdale, Minn.-based Imation, a spinoff of 3M, announced in mid-January the work would be moved to a facility in southwest Japan.
Rehkemper and many of his 106 Imation co-
But the plant's demise is far from funny for displaced workers, area businesses and city leaders.
This is the fourth layoff for Rehkemper, a 53-year-old father of eight who, since graduating with an mechanical engineering technology degree from Texas A&M, has moved from Texas to Arkansas, to Utah, back to Texas, then to Alabama and to Oklahoma, working for a half dozen permanent and contracted employers, including one eight-year stint during which he worked 140 miles from his family whom he saw only on weekends.
A tough loss
The word at Weatherford's legendary The Mark Restaurant and elsewhere in town is new jobs are coming soon from Devon Energy Corp. and other energy companies. However, such good news, all agreed, doesn't offset the situation facing affected families in the town of 10,000, located some 70 miles west of Oklahoma City.
“That many people out of work, in a little town like this, has got to hurt,” said Eldon Folks, owner of The Mark.
Echoed Rick Dahlgren, of The Cup coffee shop further north on Main: “Weatherford will feel it, especially places like mine. Say 20 of those 107 employees are my customers; this is a luxury and $4 mochas or cappuccinos are the first thing they're going to cut.”
According to city officials, Imation has been among the town's largest employers, behind Southwestern Oklahoma State University, which employs 850; Walmart, 270; its public schools, 220; Rick Koch Oil, 185; and its regional hospital, 180.
“As soon as I found out the plant was closing, I started looking,” said Rehkemper. But some 60 applications, four phone interviews and one on-site interview later, he's still looking.
Rehkemper not only has worked in various engineering positions, but also as a maintenance manager for International Paper. So he's including like positions in his search.
“Companies are being very selective,” he said. A Northern California company with which he had a phone interview has been looking for more than one and half years for a maintenance manager, he said.
The job search
Brad Hatlestad, manager of the Imation plant in Weatherford, on Tuesday said several of the soon-to-be displaced workers already have found jobs; many in the area. Several still are looking, he said, while others don't plan to start their job searches until after today.
Employees commute to the plant from as far away as Oklahoma City and Sayre, said Hatlestad, 60, a native Minnesotan who plans to move back home to the Twin Cities area.
One Weatherford employee transferred to an Imation facility in El Paso, he said, and seven will remain on site to help market the facility and complete the final shutdown.
Ten companies from the across the nation have expressed an interest in buying the 189,000-square-foot, 100-acre plant, Hatlestad said, and will participate in a mid-April tour. He said the names of the companies are confidential, but some are interested in liquidating the processing equipment and taking bids on the property.
Chuck Dougherty, director of economic development for Weatherford, said several energy-services-related companies are buying property in Weatherford's 160-acre industrial park east of town and plan to bring new jobs, including an estimated 25 from Lafayette, La.-based Trend Services, which leases on-site mobile homes; another 25 over the next year to staff a regional office of Devon Energy Corp.; and other new positions for Houston-based Casedhole Solutions Inc. and Public Service Co. of Oklahoma.
The talk in town coffee shops is a Houston-based energy company also plans to bring about 65 jobs to town. But calls and e-mails from The Oklahoman for confirmation were unreturned.
“It's always a challenge when a good company like Imation and others go away. But more jobs are coming,” Dougherty said. “The skill sets are different and don't necessarily transfer. But they're good jobs with health and retirement benefits.
“We want to bring in business to give people an opportunity to stay,” he said.
Meanwhile, Rehkemper — who still has three children at home — has put his house on the market, cut back on cable and is hauling his own trash to the dump.
“I'll start worrying in July or August,” he said, “but I know something will come up and things will work out, because they always have.”
At a glance
Imation (formerly 3M) opened its Weatherford plant in 1969, where workers initially manufactured only printing and publishing products. The company opened the neighboring data storage plant five years later. After its July 1996 spinoff from 3M, Imation sold the original building to Kodak in 2001 and in 2004 completed a $50 million addition to the newer facility, now for sale with Imation's closing.
WEATHERFORD — Former workers at Imation Corp. in Weatherford, including on-site leased workers of Express Employment Professionals, are eligible for assistance through the U.S. Department of Labor. . The program provides assistance to people who lose jobs or significant work hours due to increased imports or a shift in production out of the country. The Department of Labor recently ruled that Imation workers meet the program requirements if they were laid off or lost work hours on or after Jan. 19, 2010, through Jan. 28, 2013. To apply, call (888) 980-9675.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma recently awarded a $75,000 grant to Health Alliance for the Uninsured, a nonprofit community organization that provides affiliated free clinics in Oklahoma County. The grant expands access to CareScope, a Web-based data system that connects the free clinics with Health Alliance for the Uninsured and allows access to radiology services and specialty referrals. These services allow the clinics to provide improved care for uninsured patients with chronic diseases and acute illnesses. The grant also allows Health Alliance for the Uninsured to employ a full-time systems administrator to continue the implementation of CareScope in more clinics and assist clinics in their use of its features.
From staff reports