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Jenoptik Optical Systems plant to close in Easthampton; 39 jobs lost 

Jay Kumler, president of U.S. operations for the Jenoptik company based in Jena, Germany, said the company is consolidating operations to its Jupiter, Fla. location.

Employees were informed about the plant’s closing back in December. Most of the 39 employees in Easthampton have been laid off or will be this month. Kumler said 10 employees were offered jobs in Florida, but only three or four took the offer. The last day of work was April 5 for all but 13 workers. Those employees will continue working until the plant closes April 26.

The global company’s optical division is “generally growing,” Kumler said, but the Easthampton plant specializes in producing optics for defense contracts, which are dwindling.

“With the downturn in the defense industry, our main customers order less products,” he said in a telephone interview from Jupiter. “Our Florida plant is less defense-oriented.”

He said the company also makes optics for use in health and life sciences research, entertainment and other technology.

Mayor Michael A. Tautznik said Thursday he was surprised to hear about the plant’s closing.

“It’s unfortunate. They do precision lens crafting and it seemed like a good niche market,” he said. “It’s been good to have them here.”

The company had 140 employees nationwide before the April 5 layoffs in Easthampton, he said, most of whom are “highly skilled and specialized technicians.”

“We’ve never really had to do this before, so it’s new and difficult for me,” Kumler said. “We gave people time so they could separate from the company on their own timing if they found other opportunities.”

Since December, the company’s human resources department has helped employees “polish their resumes” and worked with state employment agencies to help them connect with potential employers.

“These are longtime employees who worked hard for the company so we made every effort to make it a smooth transition,” he said. “If there’s a silver lining, it’s that there are a handful of other optic companies in Massachusetts and Vermont, and some folks found employment doing similar work in the area.”

The company is in the process of selling the 2,400-square-foot building in Easthampton, which is valued at $1.31 million, according to city records.

Easthampton resident Roland Liebmann first began manufacturing optics at 1 Industrial Parkway in 1977 under the name Liebmann Optical Co., according to information on the Jenoptik website. Liebmann, a master optician, had previously managed the optical shop at Kollmorgen Electro-Optical.

Jenoptik acquired the company in 1999 and 10 years later Liebmann merged with sister company Coastal Optical Systems Inc. to form Jenoptik Optical Systems Inc.

Tautznik said that while Easthampton lost a lot of its manufacturing industry in the 20th century, newer industrial companies in the city — mostly along O’Neill Street and Industrial Parkway — seem to be thriving.

“We haven’t had anything like this in some time,” he said of the closing. In 2009, National Nonwovens laid off 28 workers and Berry Plastics, formerly Tubed Products, laid off about 150 employees. “But others seem to be doing well,” he said.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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