September 8, 2004
Two faculty members at Bucknell University are among the Bucknell and Lewisburg-area community members who are trying to help some 425 Pennsylvania House furniture plant workers whose jobs are threatened by the recently announced closing of the plant.
One of them is Michael Drexler, an assistant professor of English at Bucknell who had circulated an e-mail seeking volunteers to help with resume writing for those who may soon need to find other work. The other is Geoffrey Schneider, an associate professor of economics who helped organize a recent meeting of Pennsylvania House employees, community residents, religious leaders and government officials.
"The history of Pennsylvania House and Bucknell run parallel, both having deep roots in Lewisburg," said Drexler. "To sustain our town, we must preserve and strengthen the institutions that give us both our identity and our vitality."
La-Z-Boy, the owner of Pennsylvania House plants in Lewisburg and White Deer, recently announced plans to close both plants by 2005 and send the work now done in the two plants to China.
The goal of the community's grass-roots effort is to keep the plants open, either by persuading plant owner La-Z-Boy Inc. to reverse its decision, or by allowing another company or the employees to buy the two affected plants.
"It's very difficult to save a plant," said Schneider. "(But) I don't think any of us want to stand by and do nothing."
The recent meeting was organized by Schneider and retired pastor Gary Hackenberg. In addition to Schneider and Drexler, several other
Bucknell faculty and staff are involved in the community effort as well.
According to reports in area newspapers, Drexler is optimistic, even though he acknowledges there are a lot of hurdles to clear. What the community has going for it are energy and highly skilled workers who are proud of what they produce, he said.
According to Schneider, participants in the grass-roots effort are taking a wait-and-see stance on approaching another company, so as not to jeopardize negotiations with La-Z-Boy. The plan is to mobilize quickly, depending on the outcome, he said.
State Rep. Russell Fairchild is also involved in the effort, as are the governor's office and the U.S. commerce department.