But he's likely to be the last employee to work there.Tasked with cleanup of the site and sale of the facility, Schmidt, the president and CEO of Corning Asahi, has spent many days at the State College facility since it closed in June 2003.It is his second stint at the plant.He was employed there for eight years, from the mid-1980s until 1992, before he left for a supervisor position at a Corning facility in Corning, N.Y.
"Definitely walking in the first time after the announcement was made was an emotional experience," he said. "It was sad to realize a great institution was no longer going to be here."
Sobering, he said, were the empty frames where employee pictures used to line the walls of the plant; the faces of familiar friends no longer employed at Corning Asahi.
"It kind of reminds you how many people lost their jobs," he said. "The pictures were gone. The frames were still there."
There had been layoffs at Corning Asahi before. Fifty people here, 100 there, leaving employees edgy that their jobs might be next. Then came April 15, 2003, and the announcement that the facility was being shut down.
The final decision was based on signals from the customers that they were not going to be fulfilling contracts with the company or could be shutting their own doors.
"People kind of got the sense ... It wasn't a surprise," said Director of Corporate Communications Paul Rogoski. "It may have been a bit of a surprise it all closed at once."
When Schmidt arrived in June, workers were continuing to fill the final outstanding orders for funnels and panels on six production lines. A schedule had been created for when each line would shut down, and when each employee would reach their last day at work.
The shutdown had to be done with precision, Schmidt said, because no decisions had been made as to the future of the facility. That meant preventing damage to the equipment, with tasks such as draining the molten glass from the furnace.
"We shut down the facility so it could be restarted," Schmidt said.
First to be let go were the production workers, followed by maintenance, engineering and professional staff. Schmidt was left with the financial department at the end, responsible for selling the millions of dollars worth of finished goods and negotiating and terminating supply contracts.
The search for a new tenant began in the fall of 2003, when a market analysis was completed. The news wasn't great, as the analysis revealed many other industrial facilities with similar attributes were available to potential buyers as numerous other industrial facilities made the list.
Schmidt said he knew it could be a long wait until the right candidate came along. He remained hopeful that the property's uniqueness would be a draw, with its close proximity to Penn State, State College and access to major highways. That didn't seem to be the case as months went by.
Corning decided to demolish the parts of the plant for glass manufacturing because the odds of finding another glass manufacturer for the facility were almost zero, Schmidt said.
Then came a few flickers of interest: first a fiberglass manufacturer, then a proposal for a warehousing facility.
Schmidt said turning down those offers wasn't difficult, as there was always an ideal tenant in mind.
"We wanted to do the best we could to revitalize the economy," he said. "We were prepared to wait as long as it took."
Then came the Dale Summit Group, consisting of four local developers, and new hope. Four to six months of serious discussion followed, with the deal being closed June 3.
For Schmidt, it closes the chapter of his life in State College. He is leaving a happy and proud man for his role in a difficult time for the region. He now moves on to whatever Corning deems his next venture to be.
"I think we did as much as we could to live up to the values Corning has," he said, "... particularly the way the sale has gone."