Hunter Douglas ‘devastating loss’

CUMBERLAND, Md. — Patty Zimmerman has decorated countless houses with Hunter Douglas products in her 40 years as owner of Frostburg-based Window Expressions.

She was sad to hear the company plans to close its Cumberland facility, but will still tout its reputation for quality.

“I’ll continue to sell their products because they are the best window covering products on the market,” Zimmerman said Wednesday.

But the sense of pride in knowing Hunter Douglas goods were made locally will be lost, she said.

“I’m sure the community’s gonna miss them,” Zimmerman said. “There were a lot of dedicated employees.”

Allegany County officials on Tuesday learned of Hunter Douglas’ plan to close its Cumberland location.

Emails and phone messages left for Hunter Douglas officials were not returned as of Wednesday evening.

According to the company’s website, “Hunter Douglas is the world’s leading manufacturer of window coverings as well as a major manufacturer of architectural products.”

The company is headquartered in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and has offices in North America, Asia, Australia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.

But its Cumberland facility is what matters most to local folks right now.

Job losses and the bigger picture

“It’s obviously a devastating loss to the entire community,” said John Bambacus.

The former Maryland senator was mayor of Frostburg in the mid-1990s before Hunter Douglas left the city to expand its operations in Cumberland.

“I have a lot of Hunter Douglas shades in my house,” Bambacus said. “They’re a good brand and we’re very pleased.”

He’s sad the company will leave Allegany County, and concerned for people that will lose their jobs especially during inflationary times when many folks live paycheck to paycheck.

“It’s really tough,” Bambacus said.

U.S. Rep. David Trone said he was “deeply disappointed” to learn that Hunter Douglas will leave Allegany County.

“But we will not leave their hardworking employees in the lurch,” he said via email Wednesday.

“We are in close contact with local and state officials to provide these workers with resources, such as job fairs, to connect with local employers and pursue other opportunities, even before the plant closes,” Trone said. “As always, my team is here to help with unemployment benefits and financial assistance — you can count on it.”

Cumberland Mayor Ray Morriss also said he was disappointed about the company’s decision to vacate.

“They were a good employer for a lot of years,” he said.

Questions, comparisons, politics and finger pointing

Nearly 470 comments on social media Wednesday followed a Cumberland Times-News story about the closing of Hunter Douglas.

Posts ranged in tone. Some asked why the company plans to close, others compared the situation to the Verso Corp.’s Luke paper mill shuttering. Many were sympathetic to people who lost jobs, and several blamed elected officials.

The comments included:

“What is going on in this town?? One minute they are hiring and the next they are closing.”

“Prayers for the employees and their families. Times are tough as it is. Now another industry closing is another hardship for everyone!”

“Don’t worry Allegany County I’m sure that they will get another Dollar Store to move in. This area will never grow again until you elect people who are interested in getting factories to move in and get away from promoting tourism.”

“Piedmont and Westernport are turning into ghost towns because of the Luke Mill closing. Unfortunately that’s where Cumberland is heading unless we put tourism on the back burner and concentrate on bringing industry in the area.”

“Keep voting for these socialist Democrats, you get what you deserve.”

“All your elected officials are hard right Republicans. Half of them wanted to secede from the state! What have they done to keep business in the area or bring new business in? Yell at them.”

“Schools must collaborate with local businesses to ensure they are producing people with the skills needed. Elected officials need to work to attract businesses. That means good roads, airport, infrastructure, etc. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got. Get to work!”

“They’d rather take the jobs to Mexico.”

Neither Mexico nor Maryland minimum wage

There was no indication the company’s move is tied to Mexico or Maryland’s planned minimum wage increase, Allegany County Administrator Jason Bennett said.

He and other county officials met with Hunter Douglas representatives Wednesday morning at the company’s Cumberland facility.

The meeting “was as good as it could be under the circumstances,” Bennett said.

Hunter Douglas has been “a great employer in Allegany County for decades,” he said.

“We’re obviously sad to see them go,” Bennett said and added that from his understanding, the company will divide and redistribute its Cumberland enterprise to other Hunter Douglas locations.

“Most of their operations will stay here in the United States,” Bennett said and added the company’s move is “based purely on sales” and the economy.

The last day for the company’s 361 employees will be July 28, he said.

“We hate to lose any employers and jobs in the county,” Bennett said.

Hunter Douglas owns the real estate at the North Branch Industrial Park and will work with the county to sell the property, he said.

“We’ll certainly market it,” Bennett said. “There’s strong demand for warehousing and light manufacturing space.”

The county also plans to work with Hunter Douglas and the Maryland Department of Labor to provide resources, including job fairs, to out-of-work employees, he said.

“There’s lots of open jobs in the area,” Bennett said.

Hunter Douglas history: Machinery, then blinds

According to the company’s website, Henry Sonnenberg in 1919 founded a machine tool distribution and manufacturing company in Düsseldorf, Germany.

In 1933 he moved to the Netherlands and established a machine tool operation.

Sonnenberg in 1946 collaborated with Joe Hunter, who developed new technology and equipment for the continuous casting and machining of aluminum. That led to the production of lightweight Venetian blinds.

Policy disagreements in 1956 led to the sale of the U.S. business, and Sonnenberg moved Hunter Douglas’ headquarters to Montreal, Canada.

From 1960 to 1980, the company expanded operations in Europe and established itself in Latin America and Australia.

In 1976 Hunter Douglas reacquired its previous U.S. operations.

The company in 1978 acquired the Swedish blind company Turnils shortly before founding Hunter Douglas Scandinavia in Sweden.

Hunter Douglas opened a plant in Frostburg in 1990.

The company moved its local operations to Cumberland’s North Branch Industrial Park in February 2001.

In October 2019, Hunter Douglas held a festival at its Cumberland facility — which at the time was the company’s largest fabric plant and employed 800 people — to honor “100 years of innovation.”