OXFORD — A local company has stepped up to help some of the 120 employees terminated Thursday by the surprise shutdown of Keiser Homes.

Scott Stone of Schiavi Custom Builders in Oxford told the Sun Journal on Friday he has contacted the Department of Labor, which has activated its Rapid Response team to assist the laid-off workers.

“I can tell you everybody is thinking of these people and saying our prayers for them. It’s tragic,” said Stone, who is hiring additional employees because of growth in his modular home company.

Employees, some with as many as 20 years of service, were at the Keiser Homes modular-home plant at 56 Mechanic Falls Road early Friday morning to gather their tools and say goodbye to each other. On Thursday, Keiser Homes owner, Innovative Building Systems of Pennsylvania, announced internally it was shutting down the plant that has been in Oxford for nearly 30 years.

“We were told Monday that everything was going to be all right,” one employee said Friday as he and half a dozen others talked quietly in front of the Keiser Homes plant.

Innovative Building Systems’ Excel Homes of Pennsylvania, which bought the local company in 2013, has four other plants and employs more than 800 workers, building more than 28,000 homes per year, according to the company’s website. Production has apparently ceased at all five plants since IBS filed for bankruptcy.

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The employees, who asked not to be identified but who were from the Oxford Hills area, said the majority of workers had already been laid off — on a temporary basis — within the past several weeks.

On Thursday, the remaining employees were told the business was closing immediately and permanently. No severance packages were offered, and a few employees said they have lost as much as a month’s vacation pay.

“We’re like family,” said an eight-year employee from Oxford who spoke of the high-quality work the local group put out and the fact that employees were told the Oxford plant was carrying the rest of the IBS plants in recent months.

The hallways and offices of the 61,000-square-foot building that sits on 24 acres were empty Friday except for a few filled garbage bags and half a dozen managers who had no comment on the shutdown.

The yards had been emptied of modulars and the remaining modulars were being hauled from the site Friday morning to parts unknown.

One employee said rumors had circulated that the company was being sold to another modular company that backed out of the sale Thursday and that as many as two other companies had been interested in acquiring Keiser Homes.

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The employee said he and others believe the problem was not with production at the Oxford facility, but that unpaid creditors led to the bankruptcy of the mother company IBS. In fact, the local company had a backlog of orders, he said.

Last July, the Oxford plant was hit by a devastating fire in the back of the production plant that delayed work for up to six weeks. The employee told the Sun Journal that the company was paid $3 million to $4 million in insurance after the fire, but it appears the money was not used to pay back creditors.

Keiser was adding employees for the past several months and still has a “hiring” sign up on its front lawn. People came to the plant seeking applications even this week.

Stone told the Sun Journal that he had heard rumors for several months about the corporate’s financial problems and called the shutdown “devastating” for the local people involved.

“It’s a close-knit industry so when you’re in it, you hear what’s going on and sadly, this isn’t what you like to hear,” Stone said. “I feel badly for the local people. I don’t think it’s anything that they did to bring it on themselves.” 

IBS President Phil Hichman did not return calls from the Sun Journal. The four other plants in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Iowa and Indiana have also apparently shut down. No one answered the phone at three of the four plants. A woman who answered the phone at the Indiana plant confirmed that production had shut down but would not comment further.

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In addition to Keiser Homes, IBS owns Excel Homes of Pennsylvania, Excel Homes of Virginia, AAH of Indiana and AAH of Iowa.

Oxford selectmen said Thursday night they were unaware of the shutdown.

The building was valued at slightly over $300,000 and the land at $200,000; the property was taxed at $39,483, according to Oxford tax records. Town Clerk Sheila Cole confirmed Friday that the company’s taxes were paid and up to date.

Keiser Homes has been building modular homes since 1987 and was one of half a dozen modular-home plants in the Oxford area that was known as the Housing Capital of New England.

Many of the businesses, such as Burlington Homes and Oxford Homes, shut down over the past five to 10 years as the economy slowed.

Industry leaders say the larger companies, such as Keiser industries and KBS Building Systems in Paris, relied on commercial contracts to boost their production. Other modular builders such as Schiavi Custom Builders in Oxford went in new directions to boost their sales.

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Stone said the housing bust was “pretty brutal” on all home construction in 2010 when business dropped on average by 83 percent. Beginning in 2007 and running through last year, the housing slump caught everyone.

“If you made it through, it is remarkable, to say the least,” Stone said. 

Stone said he has been fortunate in seeing a 35 percent increase in business last year and he is on track to do that or better this year. It was done by going into custom building: hiring architects and interior and exterior designers.

“Twenty employees of mine have children, bills and dreams,” he said. “They are my responsibility. We all take it really seriously.” 

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The Maine Department of Labor’s Rapid Response session for laid-off Keiser Homes workers will be held at 3 p.m. Tuesday, May 10, at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, 256 Main St., South Paris. Affected workers may also contact the Lewiston CareerCenter at 207-753-9001 or 1-800-741-2991. TTY users call Maine Relay 711.

The Rapid Response session will offer information about health insurance options, re-employment assistance and unemployment benefits, according to a statement released Friday by the Department of Labor.

The Department may also coordinate a job fair in the next couple of weeks because of many requests from other employers to hire these workers. Those employers should make sure their jobs are posted on the Maine Job Bank, Labor Commissioner Jeanne Paquette said.

There is no cost to post or search for jobs on the Maine Job Bank, available at www.MaineCareerCenter.com.


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