Pilkington mum on Toledo

Nine years ago, Pilkington PLC received a $5.35 million incentive package for keeping the former Libbey-Owens-Ford Co. headquarters in downtown Toledo, a deal that included the city’s purchase of its building.

But with Pilkington’s 10-year-lease on the Madison Avenue building set to expire at the end of next year, the British glassmaker remains mum about its prospects for keeping administrative offices in Toledo.Thirty of 300 jobs will move from the Madison Avenue building to Laurinburg, N.C., by the end of March - potentially the first of many such moves.Toledo has housed the British firm’s North American headquarters staff for years.

Pilkington officials are evaluating different scenarios involving its downtown Toledo staff, and they have until the end of June to reveal their intentions, said John Loftus, Toledo’s assistant chief operating officer.

There is a concern, Mr. Loftus said, that Pilkington will abandon the downtown. Hopefully, the auto and building glassmaker will keep a significant number of people there and other tenants can be found for remaining space in the building in the midst of being sold to developers, he said.

"We’re just trying to make sure they know that we want them here ... and value them as a longtime Toledo business," Mr. Loftus said.

Some equity analysts in London said they haven’t heard that Pilkington plans to leave Toledo, although they typically would not be privy to such information unless it was part of a large restructuring.

Yet, with the elimination of Pilkington’s top North American executive position this summer and a commitment to operate along product instead of geographic lines, the company could decide to move some or all administrative personnel from Toledo, said Mike Betts, a glass industry analyst with J.P. Morgan in London.

"There’s been quite a bit of management changes at Pilkington in the last three to four months," he said. "It wouldn’t totally surprise me."

Mr. Betts added: "Do they really want to have headquarter offices on a country basis? I’m not sure."

Lease negotiations have begun between Pilkington and the building’s prospective buyers, downtown Toledo developer David Ball and his partner, Patrick Hylant. The duo wants to buy the building for $2.2 million and use part of it to house the Hylant Group insurance company.

Negotiations include going over prospective floor plans, Mr. Ball said. "We really don’t want them to go anywhere," he said.

Pilkington, which has about 400 factory and technical employees in suburban Toledo, began a restructuring of its North American plants and offices more than three years ago. Two years ago, it dropped the L-O-F name from the North American operations it bought in 1986.

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