State's glassmakers change, hold on

Before GlassWorks-WV ended production last fall, a victim of dwindling markets and overseas competition, it took six skilled workers to complete every hand-blown wine glass.

Our product had two flaws,” said Bob Gonze, the latest owner of the 77-year-old glass plant in Weston. “It was overpriced and it was old and boring.”About 28 miles away, on the outskirts of Clarksburg, AFG Industries’ plant, which produces flat glass for the automotive industry, is thriving.The plant is one long automated production line with little handwork involved, said Jeff Herholdt of the West Virginia Development Office.

When Gonze and his partners purchased Weston’s last mouth-blown glass operation in October 2000, the plant had 255 employees making 16,000 pieces of blown glass a day.

Earlier this month, Gonze began selling off his remaining inventory and pieces of his factory to try to repay his creditors an estimated $3 million.

Gonze blames the plant’s demise on production costs, especially his labor costs.

“Competing on price when a skilled Chinese glass worker makes $50 to $75 a month compared to our people making $2,000 to $4,000 per month, plus benefits, just does not compute,” Gonze said.

Dean Six, curator of the West Virginia Museum of American Glass in Weston, disagreed.

“Every time glass gets in trouble, like most industries, the first thing we yell is ‘foreign competition,’” Six said.

Six said Congress investigated similar complaints during the 1960s, when the first wave of imports hit.

“They concluded that the problem wasn’t foreign glass so much as the fact that we just weren’t buying glass at all,” Six said.

600450 State's glassmakers change, hold on

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