Steel joist plant lets 47 go

SALEM – A steel joist manufacturer at the Salem-Glenvar line that produced roof supports for the Lowe’s under construction in Salem cut almost a third of its employees last week because of the national downturn in commercial construction.

New Millennium Building Systems let go 47 out of its 162 people on Jan. 14, according to its general manager Chris Graham, after about a year of employees working 32 hours a week instead of 40 to 50 when the economy and orders are good.

New Millennium Building Systems on Diuguid Lane where the Salem and Roanoke line cross the railroad let almost one-third of its employees go on Jan. 14, due to the slowdown in the building economy, managers said. Photo by Meg Hibbert
New Millennium Building Systems on Diuguid Lane where the Salem and Roanoke line cross the railroad let almost one-third of its employees go on Jan. 14, due to the slowdown in the building economy, managers said. Photo by Meg Hibbert

Graham and New Millennium President Gary Heasley who came down from the corporate office called all the employees together that morning to make the announcement. “People got an envelope telling them where to go next, and we sent everyone home at that point, even those returning,” Graham said. The layoffs were immediate.

Employees received severance packages that included pay and some assistance on their COBRA insurance, he said. New Millennium employees get stock options and profit sharing. Both of those were accelerated for employees who were let go, Graham said, “So they would be able to sell their stock options immediately if they choose to do so.”

He was not hopeful the employees would be called back to work any time soon.

“The reason we took this step is we believe this is a year or two more left in the cycle,” Graham said. “It’s very possible that someone could be called back, it they were still interested, but that would be a year and a half away.”

The plant manager confirmed cuts were across the board, including production people and administration. “We needed to adjust our administrative staff to match our production staff,” he said. “We reduced a little bit in sales and a little bit in engineering and transportation.”

Remaining employees went back to work on Friday. Graham said as of next week or so, hours will increase.

“Everybody that remains will see more hours than they have been seeing,” he added. “We still have orders coming in.”

The plant makes the X-support steel joists that hold up metal roofs such as inside Lowe’s. Joists are not produced in advance; all orders are custom, because of unique measurements for specific buildings.

“It’s all custom. All the joists in the storage yard that you do see are all sold,” he said.

In response to a question, Graham said a Lowe’s store is typically about 200 tons of joists, and estimated that producing the joists for the new Lowe’s at the corner of West Main Street and Fourth was “probably about two days of work.”

New Millennium is the former John W. Hancock Jr. Steel plant, located where Diuguid Lane crosses the railroad. Part of the facility is in Salem, and the rest in Roanoke County.

Graham has been at a New Millennium general manager for three years, and has been in Salem since the middle of August, he said. He has worked for Steel Dynamics, the parent company, since 1994 when it was founded. “This is the first time our company has had this situation,” said Graham, who is currently splitting his time overseeing the Salem plant and on in Lake City, Fla. He said he will be taking over the Salem facility and someone else would be hired for the Florida operation.

New Millennium is a subsidiary of Steel Dynamics, based in Indiana. That change took place in 2006. New Millennium’s sister facility, the former Roanoke Electric Steel Corp. in Roanoke, is now known as Steel Dynamics Roanoke Bar Division.

SHARE