SUNBURY — Jeffrey Dreese spent every work day for 42 years doing custom manufacturing at Wood-Mode.
On Tuesday, a day after the Snyder County business announced its sudden closure, the 62-year-old Kreamer resident spent his morning filling out paperwork and searching for a new job at the PA CareerLink in Sunbury. Fifty-six employees visited CareerLink on Tuesday to get the ball rolling on resumes, applications and unemployment benefits following Monday’s closure of Wood-Mode.
"I always felt like it would be my home until retirement," said Dreese. "When you're there that long, you grow accustomed to it. It gets to be like a family."
Dreese said he was "shell shocked" when management delivered the news to employees, especially since he had between $100,000 and $150,000 worth of pending projects. As the main breadwinner between him and his wife, Dreese said he must look for another job.
"If I can get a job, I'll work," he said.
Jackie Rachau, 54, of Sunbury, who worked at Wood-Mode for nearly six years, was also in the CareerLink on Tuesday starting the process of finding a new job. She said she was "surprised" and "floored" with the news.
"There were so many rumors for so long," she said. "A lot of employees felt they weren't being completely upfront with us with what was going on. It disappointed a lot of employees."
"Busier than usual"
CareerLink Sunbury site administrator Jamie Mercaldo and Central Pennsylvania Workforce Development Corporation Executive Director Erica Mulberger said Tuesday ex-employees from Wood-Mode were calling for guidance, and employers from around the Valley were calling to say they have positions open and plan to be involved in upcoming job fairs.
"It's been very busy, certainly busier than usual," said Mercaldo. "Yesterday when we heard the news, we immediately started getting phone calls to say they were coming in right away at 8:30 a.m. We had quite a few people in this morning. We had 36 people from Wood-Mode just this morning (before noon)."
Staff were made available for the influx, and a second job search room was set up, she said.
Mulberger said job seekers have access to the career resource rooms with computers for job searching. They can register as dislocated workers, which makes them eligible for training if they want to learn a new trade or go back to school. They have a direct unemployment phone line if they want to file unemployment compensation. They can brush up on their workforce skills, and staff is available to help update resumes and fill out applications.
"Don't give up hope. Don't feel this is the end of the world," said Mulberger. "There's opportunities out there in the region with a lot of good employers. If they need assistance, come to the PA Career Link and we can certainly help them."
They can go to any CareerLink, whichever location is closest to them, said Mercaldo.
"It's really all hands on deck," said Mulberger.
The Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) has activated its Rapid Response Coordination Services (RRCS) in response to the Wood-Mode closing.
A team of RRCS specialists is meeting with affected Wood-Mode workers at the Susquehanna University’s Weber Chapel Auditorium, 514 University Avenue in Selinsgrove at 10 a.m. Tuesday, May 21. The team will provide important information on programs and services including: unemployment compensation, health and pension benefits, financial credit counseling, training programs, job search activities, education services, and social service programs, among others. The meeting is open only to Wood-Mode employees.
The department’s Rapid Response Information Guide provides a thorough breakdown of the program as well as a list of services, resources, and regional contacts for easy referencing. To view the guide, visit Rapid Response Information Guide.
The Link, a mobile career center operated by the Central Susquehanna Opportunities Inc., will be at the VFW as well as the RRCS event.
The Cross Nazarene Church, at the intersection of Routes 147 and 45 in Montandon, is also planning a job fair and free lunch for people seeking jobs. The event will be held at the church from 10 to 12 noon June 11. The list of employers is not finalized yet, said director of evangelism and discipleship Brandon Kuhns.
"We felt like we wanted to do something," said Kuhns about the Wood-Mode closure. "A meal only gets people so far. If we can help provide someone with a livelihood, we feel that will go further than a meal."
Those interested in participating either as an employer or job seeker can call the church at 570-524-4819 and ask for Janette Berge.
The Central Pennsylvania Workforce Development Corporation is inviting 160 local manufacturers, and other businesses that have expressed interest, to participate in a job fair specifically for Wood-Mode employees. Event details are forthcoming.
Jon Hannah, government affairs director at the Modular Building Institute, said builders need skilled labor to produce products, such as kitchen and bath cabinetry.
"... We are in this together.'
Seth Joseph, the director of Development and Marketing for the Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way, said the organization will be working in the days, weeks and months ahead with the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce and other partners in meeting the needs of the people as they arise.
"For now," he said, "the best we can do is reach out and let someone know we are in this together."
Wood-Mode has been a Valley institution and generous community partner for nearly 80 years. The company has provided thousands of jobs and not just philanthropically supported many organizations and projects, but has also provided decades of inspired vision, leadership and volunteerism across our community, said Joseph.
"We are extremely saddened to learn of Wood-Mode’s closing – hundreds of working families are hurting right now. GSV United Way and our organizational partners are committed to supporting people affected by Wood-Mode’s closure. Our Local Vision program exists for exactly this reason: to support working families. If you or someone you love is struggling, please contact us.
The Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way is located at 228 Arch St, Sunbury. The office can be reached at 570-988-0993.
'This was like a bomb'
Sue Auman, executive director of the Union-Snyder Community Action Agency in Selinsgrove, said many employers are sharing current job openings for Wood-Mode employees to seek. That list can be found on the CAA's Facebook page.
The CAA offers assistance in education, resumes, cover letters, job search, and/or any urgent basic needs. The CAA in its goal to "help people help themselves" partners with CareerLink, the United Way, the local Chambers of Commerce, county elected officials and other partners in the community.
"This was like a bomb, this is huge," said Auman. "This will have such a big impact on the community and Snyder County and beyond really. It was so unexpected for folks."
The CAA is for people in need, for people facing eviction, for those who are struggling to keep their home, have access to food, or facing utility shut offs, and even for people who just need guidance in coming up with financial plans, said Auman.
Time spent "speculating and pointing fingers" is not time well spent; time spent focusing on the jobs lost and helping the people is time well spent, she said.
"That's when we shine," she said. "When we come together and help one another."
The CAA is located at 713 Bridge St., Selinsgrove. The office can be reached at 570-374-0181.
Reporter Marcia Moore contributed to this story.