Independent Can to close at end of April

Closure announcement made in October as line moved to Maryland


FORT MADISON – After announcing to staff in October that the plant would be closing after 44 years in Fort Madison, the company is about six weeks from closing its doors.
Plant Manager Jeff Hardy said governmental influence in the steel industry is forcing manufacturers like Independent Can overseas.
The facility, located on Crabtree Lane just off 303rd Avenue in northeast Fort Madison, is closing and moving its product lines back to Maryland, where the company is headquartered.
Hardy will stay on with the company along with two other employees. He will serve as a remote manager.
The company now makes decorative tin products for popcorn companies and other food products as well as some tin signage. They came to Fort Madison in 1979 on a 10-year contract with Climax Molybdenum. After the 10 years was up, Climax moved to a plastic coated box for shipping and no longer needed the cans Independent Can was manufacturing.
From that point on, the company transitioned to other products to keep the workforce in Fort Madison viable. Hardy has been with the company for 14 years.
He said in that time, he took the local facility from eight employees to 40 full-time and 12 temporary employees at its peak.
“When we made the announcement, it affected 35 employees and we’ve done everything we can to help them transition,” Hardy said.
“We have three staying with the company and we’ve helped 13 people move to different jobs. I’ve personally written letters of recommendation and gone to job fairs to help those employees with potential employers.”
Hardy said the Fort Madison facility is the farthest outpost from Maryland and due to the economy, steel inflation, steel tariffs, and the influx of foreign steel, Independent Can needed to consolidate its overhead and unfortunately, its factories. With all those factors, the company made the decision to close the Fort Madison facility and move production to Maryland.
Hardy said the corporation had been considering closing the plant for years. But he said the workforce in Fort Madison was so efficient, he was able to stave that off until 2023. He said the official closing date is fluid, but right now it’s scheduled for the end of April.
“That’s been fluid and keeps moving. Our anticipated done date with everybody out is the end of April,” he said.
“Since we announced Oct. 9, that’s given people plenty of time to help them find other employment in the area. We’ve got 19 people that have yet to be released to go on to new jobs,” he said.
Hardy said several other companies have an interest in buying the facility and he said they will be jobs-producing entities.
“We have several companies looking at buying the building and I can’t divulge, but those would put jobs back in the building,” he said.
“Over time it would similar in terms of numbers and wages. Initially it would be a half to a third of where we were at, but these are companies that are growing. They were looking for very well-maintained food-safe buildings with the ability to expand.”
The facility sits on 15 acres total and has engineered drawings to add on 90,000 square feet.
“It’s ready to expand,” he said.
Hardy, who's close to early retirement with the company, said the transition has been difficult and he feels responsible for the employees.
“It’s always difficult because of the people involved. I even know the names of some of these people’s pets. My focus has been to help my team. We developed a solid, high-performance team that is very close knit. My focus has been to make sure they land on their feet as much as possible.
“Til the end this has run like a well-oiled machine. You can’t say enough about this team.”
Hardy said the county has the tools in place to attract workers and employers with the movement of the Lee County Economic Development Group.
“They are very proactive and are setting up the right things. You have SCC with training facilities for people who want technical skills. You’ve got the training center for kids in high school and beyond,” Hardy said.
“Trades…learning a trade now is a much better investment than a four-year degree. And Lee County is in a great position to grow what you need as employees. That infrastructure is there and very sound. But you have to keep working on quality of life in Fort Madison.”
He said one of the key factors that contributed to closing the plant was transportation limitations from St. Louis and Chicago.
He said the air service in Burlington and Quincy is too unreliable and VIPs can’t get into the area very efficiently. He said limo service from those areas is a strong idea, and even said a helicopter service would help people see this area as a better investment.
“The improvement of infrastructure in Fort Madison needs to keep going. I think Fort Madison, and this is just me, in the past has had a chokehold on other entities coming in and growing it. People need to understand competition increases business for everyone. In the past 40-30-20 years what have you, Fort Madison has been afraid to grow -  to allow big box competitors to come into town - and that needs to change.”

Independent Can, Fort Madison, closure, April, employees, workforce, facility, news, business, Pen City Current, Fort madison , Jeff Hardy


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