Heber Springs plant laying off hundreds to begin 2014

HEBER SPRINGS (KATV) -- An Arkansas factory known for making theundercarriage for the first corvette is laying off 300 employees after losingits largest account.

Saint Jean Industries in Heber Springs makesparts and accessories for vehicles, but now comes a significant decrease inworkers.

As the New Year rings infor 2014 in a couple of months nearly 90 percent of employees at Saint Jean's inHeber Springs plant are facing cuts. The company lost its largest account fromGeneral Motors, and now the workers are losing their jobs.

For nearly a decade SaintJean has given hundreds of people in Heber Springs a job in the automobileindustry, but because of the lost account it won't be making as many orders, ormoney.

"Part of that isthat they were doing so much business with (General Motors) than they hadanticipated, and they really just couldn't keep up with," said Heber SpringsMayor Jackie McPherson.

SJI is based in France,and owned by Emile Di Serio. It considers Heber Springs its North Americanheadquarters, so it won't completely close the plant. It expects to keep onlyabout 40 of the 340 employees around to begin 2014.

"Industry is a bigpiece of who Heber Springs is and it will be a very dramatic impact on ourcommunity," McPherson added.

"We'll do everythingwe can to help the employees who are displaced at Saint Jean. I'm sure thestate will bring in some workforce training and those types of things that willeither help retrain the people, who were displaced, help them find otherjobs."

A very similar eventhappened around 2008 when the economy went south. SJI had about 500 employeesat the time, suffered major layoffs, but eventually it built business back again.Mayor McPherson believes we may see that once again here, but it will taketime.