LINCOLN, Neb. — Gary Oden has known for weeks that the plant where he has spent the last 19 years helping build Vise-Grips, one of Nebraska's most famous products, would be shutting down.
But he still wasn't completely prepared for the meeting at 5:30 Wednesday morning.
He and other employees were officially told the bad news, the kind that has stung workers in upper Midwestern states for years but is relatively uncommon in Nebraska: The DeWitt plant is shutting down so operations can be moved to China.
"It's a kick in the head," Oden said from a DeWitt bar where employees gathered to discuss the announcement and "try to forget about it."
About 300 people work at the plant, which for decades has anchored the southeast Nebraska town of DeWitt, population 572.
Roughly 40 of the employees make Unibit tool parts. According to Oden, managers said Unibit operations are moving to Maine.
The plant closure is sure to rattle more than the town's residents and the plant's workers.
Vise-Grip is an iconic name in Nebraska, one of the most famous products invented or developed in the state, along with Kool-Aid, raisin bran, and the Reuben sandwich.
The locking pliers have been manufactured in DeWitt for more than 80 years. DeWitt blacksmith and Danish immigrant William Petersen got a patent for the device in 1924.
When Petersen died in 1962, his family took over. The business was eventually renamed American Tool Cos.
American Tool sold out in 2002 to Newell Rubbermaid, a minority owner since 1985. Since then, the DeWitt plant has operated under the name of Irwin Industrial Tools, a company American Tool bought in 1993.
Oden said employees were told that "to keep the Vise-Grip name competitive, they had to move to China."
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