NL | Last Sunday, Lisa Scheid of LancasterOnline spoke about Armstrong Flooring retirees and their “sense of loss for a place that not only offered stability and decent wages, but served as the glue that held generations of Lancaster residents together for 160 years”. Armstrong Flooring, “the cultural and economic institution that has spanned the lives of countless area residents,” was “lost to bankruptcy last month.” Its Lancaster and Beech Creek factories were consolidated into another flooring business and its corporate headquarters and other factories were closed and liquidated. Scheid then reported that a “Delaware bankruptcy judge has approved a $1 million naming rights settlement that completes the sale of Armstrong Flooring’s China and Australia businesses.” What Scheid described as the ‘iconic floor maker’ must now ‘calm down and settle millions in debt’.
We are sorry to see Armstrong Flooring come to this sad end. But we are grateful to the many residents of Lancaster County who have helped make the company an integral part of this community for so long. They built Armstrong and allowed Armstrong to help build Lancaster County.
Rick Wartzman, author of the 2017 book “The End of Loyalty: The Rise and Fall of Good Jobs in America,” told LNP | LancasterOnline’s Scheid in an interview Armstrong honored – longer than most companies – the unspoken social contract that companies would provide secure jobs and retirement in exchange for employee loyalty and hard work. (His book chronicled the erosion of this social contract as it gave in to globalization, automation, outsourcing, and a focus on cutting costs to generate profits for people. shareholders.)
Wartzman told Scheid that the social contract was due in part to the hard-won victories of organized labor. This had an element of paternalism and did not always extend to people of color or women.
But for many Armstrong Flooring employees, it was part of their company experience.
According to Scheid’s report, every Armstrong Flooring employee “received a book about the company’s history and its slogan, ‘Let the buyer have faith,'” which comes from founder Thomas Morton Armstrong. “It wasn’t just a slogan, the employees said; it was a culture and a work ethic,” Scheid wrote.
She quoted Amy Sumpman, who rose from order taker to customer service manager during her 20 years with the company, before her job (and the jobs of other HQ staff) ended. July 22.
“When you work for Armstrong Flooring, you feel that sense of pride. You felt part of that legacy,” said Sumpman, who is now working, temporarily, for one of the buyers, Gordon Brothers Commercial & Industrial, as he liquidates part of the business.
In 2016, Armstrong World Industries “created its flooring division, the heart and legacy upon which the company was built,” Scheid wrote. “Armstrong Flooring lasted six years before being sold in bankruptcy (last month) to AHF Products.”
AHF, she noted, “started as the wood flooring division of Armstrong Flooring which was transformed into a private equity firm in 2019. The division started years earlier.”
Scheid quoted David Byrne, who retired in 2006 after nearly 34 years with the company. Now a freelance journalist who covers sport for LNP | LancasterOnline, Byrne noted that the company changed in the 1990s when George Lorch became chairman.
Byrne said the first change separated the various operations into focused business units, each responsible for its profit/loss – an idea that had previously failed at General Motors.
Then, as Byrne recounted, Lorch introduced the concept of return on assets.
Says Byrne: “For generations, American businesses have operated on the theory of return on investment, the profit made on the money invested in making the product to be sold.”
He noted wryly: “Some morons came up with the idea of return on assets. In Armstrong’s case, each individual Targeted Business Unit (FBU) had an assigned value (raw materials, machinery, etc.), and if that FBU did not return a percentage of the value of those “assets” – in the Lorch’s imagination 12% profit – the FBU was in danger and/or marked for elimination.
During the company’s glory days, Armstrong was known as much for its innovation as it was for its flooring designs, Scheid pointed out. “The company was the first in its industry to open a research and development center, in Lancaster in 1952.”
He has employed “thousands of Lancaster County residents over the years, including several generations of families. As late as 1990, Armstrong’s local workforce was 5,000 employees, but a recession in the early 1990s and restructurings in the late 1990s reduced it to 2,900.”
Scheid also noted that “Lancaster County’s robust arts community drew much of its strength from the waves of creatives (including writers, photographers, and designers) Armstrong brought here over decades. …Armstrong is woven into Lancaster County’s identity in the same way that other businesses, such as Bethlehem Steel, are tied to a community.
Its flooring products have been tested in the “bustling hallways of McCaskey High School and small stores like Queen Street Bistro,” Scheid noted.
Alan Glassman, an architect who worked for Armstrong for 32 years before retiring in 2002, told Scheid it was essentially “a cradle-to-grave undertaking.”
The County Promise
We sympathize with former Armstrong Flooring employees who mourn the company’s bankruptcy. But change is inevitable. And as a manufacturing hotbed, Lancaster County’s prospects remain bright.
As Scheid reported last Sunday, a 2021 report from the Lancaster County Economic Development Corporation indicates that manufacturing in the county is expected to remain stable at its employment base of 37,000, growing 0.2% in over the next 10 years. According to this non-profit organization, which aims to promote business development and expansion here, manufacturing contributes 19% of Lancaster County’s gross domestic product and 15% of its workforce.
The county’s future stability, Scheid wrote, “runs counter to manufacturing trends in Pennsylvania and the United States, where manufacturing employment is expected to contract slowly over the next decade.”
Not surprising. Lancaster County has a diverse and skilled workforce. It just needs to provide the affordable housing needed to retain and attract more skilled workers. There are so many promises here.
As Armstrong leaves the landscape, other county stalwarts — including Steinman Communications (which owns LNP Media Group, which publishes this newspaper), as well as Cargas Systems Inc. and High Industries Inc. — continue to thrive and contribute to the economy of this county. and its non-profit organizations.
Chip Cargas, who founded the Lancaster-based enterprise software company, which is now majority employee-owned, was the son of Donald George Cargas, whose LNP | LancasterOnline’s obituary not only tells its own story, but that of Lancaster County.
Coming of age during the Great Depression, Don Cargas in his youth “had morning and evening newspaper routes, sold newspapers at St. Joseph’s Hospital, and worked at Cargas Cleaners, his father’s dry-cleaning business. “, notes his March 2014 obituary. “He was in the first class to graduate from the new McCaskey High School in 1938.” After serving as a transport pilot and captain in the US Army Air Corps in the South Pacific, “Most of Don’s professional career was with Armstrong World Industries, retiring in 1983 as a advertising production. He was a community leader and an actor.
So many Armstrong employees were — and continue to be — leaders and doers.
The legacy of the company will live on in them and their children, and Lancaster County will be richer for it.