By Zachariah Bryan

The long awaited news that Olympic Panel Products in Shelton would be closing down has finally come. 

The State Employment Security Department released a layoff notice the 217 employees will be out of work starting on July 22. The news was originally announce in March of 2015, when notice came that forest products company Swanson Group Manufacturing LLC purchased the assets of Olympic Panel Products and would be moving operations to a new state-of-the-art facility in Springfield, Ore.

Cheryl Fambles, CEO of Pacific Mountain WorkForce Development Council (PMWDC), said the transition process will look a lot like what happened with the Simpson Lumber mill closure, which took place right next door and resulted in about 275 layoffs.

The only difference is that employees may have an even harder time finding work closer to home.

“(Simpson Lumber and Olympic Panel Products) are located side by side,” Fambles said. “The impacts in the community are cumulative.”

Before taking action, Fambles continued, PMWDC will talk to employees and evaluate to find out their plans — whether they are relocating, retiring or need retraining. Then, the organization will look for funding, including Trade Act Assistance dollars, which aids workers who lose their jobs due to international competition. 

From there, Fambles said, PMWDC will continue operating the transition center in Shelton — originally erected to help Simpson workers — and hire on new peer advisors from Olympic Panel Products. That will help with paperwork, resumes, interview skills, finding a job, finding a school and other forms of assistance.  

“That is the dilemma, there are only so many mill worker positions that are open. (This is about) being able to help them understand their skills and what’s transferrable to other manufacturing environments,” Fambles said. “(This situation) can be pretty dramatic. Certainly there’s a loss of income. These jobs are often some of the highest paying jobs in the area, Shelton is a very small rural community. … People are terrified about what they’re going to do, how they’re going to feed their family, what are their next steps.”