Smethport Web – by Nathan Muller
Patch Products in Beloit, Wisconsin has announced that its toy factory in Smethport, Pennsylvania will close as of February 28, 2014.
The facility, known for producing the locally-invented, world-famous Wooly Willy magnetic toy, will impact 15 employees. Positions include both management and those working the assembly line.
“While the decision to close the Smethport, Pennsylvania facility was a difficult one, it is important for the long term health of the organization. As we evaluate the trends of the toy industry and the needs of the future, we felt it was important to consolidate our manufacturing facilities.” said Brian Maxwell, President of Patch.
“I want to thank our employees for their service and dedication to Patch. This is a difficult time, and we’re doing everything possible to provide support to those affected,” said Maxwell.
According to Patch, employees whose jobs have been eliminated have been provided a severance package and resources to assist them in their job search.
While Patch Products has been moving some toy production to China in recent years, a spokesperson for Patch Products said the company intends to produce the original Wooly Willy magnetic toy, invented in 1955 by Smethport’s Jim Herzog, at its plant in Beloit.
Herzog noted that Smethport had been an ideal location for a toy industry for many years. He said the community was central to the population of the United States, offering good resources in the form of supplies and talented employees.
“Obviously I find the firm’s demise a sad occasion for those still employed and for the community in general,” said Herzog. “I do hope a new industry can be found that will enjoy the same support given the firm when I was involved over 20 years ago.”
Reflecting on the current situation, Herzog said the toy industry thrives on new products, either evolutionary or revolutionary. “Even though Wooly Willy gave Patch a good base product, it was no longer capable of supporting the company on its own merits.”
Smethport Mayor Wayne Foltz had concerns that this day might come based on downsizing and the direction many manufacturing companies are going today.
“When I read it to be fact my heart sank,” said Foltz. “While I won’t pretend to know the heartache of the employees about to lose their livelihood, I do hope the best for them. There is sadness and shock within the community, but I know in the end our community and its citizens will get through this,” he said.
“Thank you to the Herzog family, especially Wooly Willy creator Jim Herzog, for giving Smethport such a great place for employment and Patch Products for continuing that for as long as possible,” said Foltz. “Best regards to all and remember that the Wooly Willy heritage will never disappear. ”
See related story in Bradford Era.