A lack of qualified personnel in the Kootenays is the reason 5N Plus, a high tech company in Trail, is closing its local operations for good.
The company, which purchased Firebird Technologies in 2009, recently issued pink slips to its 75 staff members.
“I think the biggest challenge we had there was to attract and retain competent personnel,” said Jean Mayer, the company’s director of legal and corporate affairs, in an interview with the Trail Times on Tuesday from his office in Montreal.
“It’s an isolated area, and we found it was difficult to retain personnel compared with the bigger player in the area, Teck.”
Mayer said that even though 5N Plus offered competitive employment conditions; the plant could not attract the people it needed to sustain the company.
Most of the activities taking place in Trail will be consolidated to a U.S. subsidiary located in Utah, called Sylarus Technologies.
“Part of the activities will be moved to our head office in Montreal, the rest will be transferred to the U.S.,” he explained. “The plant in Trail will be closed in the next few months.”
Sandy Santori, from the Lower Columbia Community Development Team, was disappointed with the news.
He said that with the history of metallurgy in the Trail community, it has one of the highest skilled work forces in the country.
“It’s too bad that, that is what happens when you get swallowed up by a bigger company,” he said.
“In the bigger scheme of things for 5N Plus, this operation was small potatoes. But it is not small potatoes for this community.”
According to Mayer, some of the employees at the Trail plant will be offered jobs within the company, although with the layoffs being so recent, nothing is finalized yet.
Pat Hinds, operations manager and controller for the Trail plant, did not want to give a formal statement at this time.
5N Plus Trail grows high-quality indium antimonide crystals that are sold as wafers and further refined into components for highly sensitive heat cameras, infrared windows and even infrared missile systems.
In 2011, the company left its 14,000-square-foot Glenmerry facility for a new 40,000 square-foot warehouse on Industrial Road, just past the Trail airport.
The re-location was a $10 million investment, with a vision to double the number of employees; and increase productivity by 20 times, with a focus on producing germanium and gallium antiminide.
“Once the plant is closed, we will be putting the building up for sale,” said Mayer.