The former Tibbals/Hartco flooring plant in Oneida was a mainstay for generations, and served as the community’s most prolific manufacturing employer from just after World War II until it fell victim to the Great Recession in 2010. On February 11, 2020 — 10 years and one week after Armstrong World Industries significantly scaled back operations at the plant — the few dozen workers who remained lost their jobs | Independent Herald file photo.

Ten years, almost to the day, after closing most of its Oneida plant, the owners of the former Armstrong flooring plant pulled the plug on the facility last week, affecting several dozen workers.

The flooring manufacturing employees — about 40, although an exact count was not available — learned Tuesday, February 11, that their jobs had been eliminated, as American Industrial Partners (AIP) idled its parquet flooring plant in Oneida. 

The layoff came suddenly and unexpectedly for the workers at the Oneida facility, many of whom had worked at the flooring plant for decades. The Worker Adjustment & Retraining Notification (WARN) Act only applies if a layoff affects 100 or more workers.

Tuesday’s events marked what appears to be the closing of the final chapter for what was once Oneida’s most productive manufacturing industry.

However, the Armstrong operation in Oneida has been a shell of its former self for a decade. On February 4, 2010, Armstrong World Industries announced that it would idle most of its operations in Oneida, costing some 260 workers their jobs. Two months later, it closed the strip mill, finish line and yard operations. As a result, Scott County’s already-rising unemployment rate soared to become the state’s highest, and eventually topped out at just over 23 percent nearly two years later.

Established by Howard Tibbals and his father, the Tibbals Flooring Co. grew to become a globally-recognized brand and was Oneida’s primary manufacturing employer from just after World War II until the Great Recession prompted the massive layoff in 2010.

Among its more notable accomplishments, flooring manufactured at the Oneida plant was used in part of Donald Trump’s Trump Tower in New York City. 

“I had a lot of pride in the products we were making,” Howard Tibbals later told the Florida Trend. “We put the floors in Donald Trump’s building in New York City. I had a lot of pride in the woodworking machinery I designed and altered. There’s a lot of good commercial woodworking machines in this country, but if you want to change them to do special products and run real fast and all that sort of stuff, that was my specialty — taking existing machinery and adapting it to do more things than it was originally designed to do.”

The Tibbals company later established the Hartco brand of flooring, which further elevated its profile. Hartco Flooring Company was later urchased by Premark for $94 million in 1988, and then to Triangle Pacific Corp. in 1996. By that time, another of Triangle Pacific’s brands, Bruce Hardwood, had grown to become the largest producer of residential hardwood flooring in North America. By purchasing Hartco, Triangle Pacific was able to acquire one of its largest competitors. 

Just two years later, in 1998, Armstrong World Industries — at the time a Fortune 100 company — purchased Triangle Pacific for $890 million.

The mass layoff in Oneida in 2010 was Armstrong’s second. One year earlier, the company eliminated 425 positions at four plants, including one in Jackson, Tenn. Another layoff of 116 workers would follow at an Armstrong plant in Beverly, W. Va. in 2011.

In 2015, Armstrong World Industries created a new publicly-traded company, Armstrong Flooring, to separate its hardwood flooring products from its ceiling products. Three years after that, the company announced it was selling its wood flooring division to AIP for $100 million.

Last year, AIP established AHF Products as an independent wood flooring company to manage the former Armstrong flooring division and maintain its brands.

Reportedly, some of the local employees were going to be transferred to AHF’s Somerset plant — also a former Armstrong facility.