Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Burned-out Omniglass plant unlikely to reopen

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A Winnipeg window- and door-frame manufacturer that suffered a devastating fire early in the new year appears to be closing down.

Fire broke out at Omniglass Inc.'s 60,000-square-foot plant on Sherwin Road on Jan. 2 this year, causing an estimated $15 million in damage.

Shortly thereafter, the local manager -- who is also the founder of the company -- and the California-based owners were quoted as saying they would do everything they could to reopen.

But several industry sources said it's apparent most of the company's former 65 employees are no longer on the payroll there.

Some have noted with dismay that those employees have been cut loose with no severance pay, regardless of their tenure with the company.

An official with the province's Employment Standards Branch said there is a clause in employment standards codes across the country that excludes wages in lieu of notice for anything "unforeseen or fortuitous."

Fire is the classic example of how that clause comes into effect.

Company officials in Canada and California did not return phone calls, but several industry sources in Canada and the United States agreed it would be a significant challenge to reopen.

One local source said Omniglass's parent company, Serious Energy, might be planning to auction the equipment that could be salvaged.

Omniglass developed a specialized fibreglass pultrusion technology to build window and door frames that was licensed to other manufacturers.

In 2010, Omniglass founder Laurie Davies sold the business to Serious Energy, a private equity-backed company that made a name as a "green energy" company and job creator, especially in the aftermath of the 2008-09 recession and housing-industry crisis.

However, the decimation of the housing market in the United States has created tough times for the window business in that country, said John Swanson, editor-in-chief of the trade publication Window & Door. As well, the fibreglass sector of the business is not large, and although Serious Energy came on strong post-recession, some industry sources said it might be having problems.

Omniglass and the Winnipeg plant do not appear anywhere on Serious Energy's website.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 16, 2012 B6

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