An 80-year-old Charleston maintenance and repair shop is closing its doors Friday, with its owner pointing to struggles in the coal and manufacturing industries as the reasons why.
Kanawha Electric & Machine Co. is wrapping up its final repairs this week after decades of work fixing motors, pumps, generators and other items for clients across the United States, owner Tom Sheppard said Wednesday.
Sheppard said many of the company’s biggest clients in the coal industry have been hit hard by the continued shift toward natural gas and renewable energy. This has led to a lack of work for the company, which often repairs equipment used in coal mines, he said.
“It’s been tough with all these bankruptcies,” said Sheppard, specifically mentioning the bankruptcies of Alpha Natural Resources and Patriot Coal in the past few years. “Those companies gave us a lot of our work.”
Sheppard said a few people have expressed interest in buying the company’s facility on Campbells Creek Drive, as well as its assets, but no deal has been reached.
“We hope new owners would run a similar operation,” Sheppard said. “We hope they want to bring back [Kanawha Electric] employees. Some have expressed an interest in doing that.”
Kanawha Electric will lay off the 14 people it employs, Sheppard said. In May 2012, it employed 49 people, according to a Gazette-Mail report at the time. Sheppard said Wednesday that was likely the company’s peak in employment.
The company began in 1937, exclusively repairing motors, but had diversified its customer base in recent years, making repairs to Hoover Dam electrical components and repairing electric motors at the state Capitol Complex, Sheppard said. The Gazette-Mail reported in 2012 that Steve Kappa, the company’s government programs manager, said Kanawha Electric expanded its products and services tenfold.
“We have expanded our marketplace by going after different markets, like the government. We’re diversifying so that the company’s business plan doesn’t focus solely on one market,” Kappa said in the 2012 report.
The diversification wasn’t enough to keep Kanawha Electric afloat, though, as coal companies still made up around 30 percent of its business, Sheppard said.
He said he sold the assets of another company he owned, Tug River Armature and Machine Co., in Mingo County, about a year ago for the same reason. That company wasn’t much different from Kanawha Electric, but it worked nearly exclusively with coal companies. Tug River Armature and Machine had about 90 percent of its business in coal mining, Sheppard said.
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