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March 24, 2020

CT-based manufacturers announce coronavirus-related layoffs, shutdowns

HBJ File Photo A FuelCell Energy cogeneration unit at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.

Two publicly-traded Connecticut manufacturers -- Lydall Inc. and FuelCell Energy Inc. -- announced they are scaling-down operations globally and in Connecticut amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Manchester-based Lydall Inc., which makes filtration-thermal and acoustics-sealing products for myriad industries, announced it will lay off 500 workers in North Carolina and ask 500 European employees to stay home as the company "ramps-down" operations in the Tar Heel State, France and Germany.

Lydall, which employs about 3,300 people globally, announced the moves after a number of its customers temporarily halted operations in the wake of COVID-19, Lydall President and CEO Sara Greenstein said.

“The decision to ramp-down production at these facilities was not made lightly,” Greenstein said. “It was driven by a sharp and immediate decrease in customer demand from the automotive industry and was necessary for the sustainability of our business.”

[Read HBJ’s coronavirus coverage here]

Lydall spokesman Brendan Moynihan said the North Carolina layoffs were directly related to large car companies like General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles temporarily shuttering operations due to COVID-19. There aren't currently plans for layoffs at the firm's Manchester corporate headquarters, and employees there are currently working remotely, Moynihan said.

Regarding further closures or layoffs, the situation is fluid, Moynihan said.

"We're looking at this on a day-by-day basis," Moynihan said. "It is a very dynamic situation." 

Greenstein added that the company's China operations are seeing an increase in orders, and most employees are back at work there. Additionally, Greenstein said, the company is focusing on operating with minimal operational expenses and has drawn $20 million from existing credit to weather the coronavirus-related disruption.

Meanwhile, Danbury-based FuelCell, a state-backed company that makes and sells high-efficiency fuel cells to industrial customers in the U.S. and abroad, temporarily suspended operations at its Torrington facility, and anticipates it will remain closed until April 20, with some employees who cannot work remotely returning April 1. 

Employees unable to work from home during the closure will continue receiving full pay and benefits, FuelCell President and CEO Jason Few said.

“FuelCell Energy has taken these steps to prioritize the health and well-being of our team members, our corporate community and the communities where our team members live,” Few said. 

FuelCell has received millions of dollars in state aid, but has struggled in recent years, announcing in early 2019 that it was laying off one-third of its Connecticut staff of 431 employees amid a capital crunch and major downturn.

Fuel cells, while growing in number in the U.S. and Asia, remain a relatively niche and unprofitable technology, despite more than 20 years of commercial sales.

In a statement, Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner David Lehman touted the company's response to the virus.

“I sincerely appreciate FuelCell Energy’s proactive approach to protecting public health and their commitment to pay their workers full wages and benefits during this time," Lehman said.

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