Jamie Smith, tbnewswatch.com
GRK Fasteners will move out of Thunder Bay by the end of the year its former owner says.
THUNDER BAY -- The former owner of a local business success story is shocked and devastated that his life's work is going south after more than 20 years.
In 1989 Uli Walther was looking to set up a North American distribution centre for a German screw manufacturer and found that home in Thunder Bay.
"This was the best city we visited and gave us the best opportunity," he said.
While the parent company left Walther and his family stayed in the city, building the 40-person GRK Fasteners into what it is today.
He sold the business to ITW Construction Products, a subsidiary of Illinois Tool Works, in 2011 with the promise that the company would keep the Thunder Bay operation how and where it is for three years. On Tuesday, a little more than four months after that promise expired, he got word from employees there that it will move to Chicago by the end of the year.
"I am devastated," Walther said. "It's a terrible shock for me."
"Until now they lived up to the contract and to their promises."
It's also devastating for his former employees, some who have worked there nearly the entire time the business has been open. The business has always shown profit, even breaking records during the 2008 recession. But creating a solid and secure workplace for employees always came first.
"For me people were never just numbers. It was always individuals who worked very hard for their livelihood," he said.
His son Mirco, who was also part-owner and former president, said once people got a job at GRK they didn't tend to leave.
"It's just sad to see that it's coming to an end," he said.
Mirco said the company, with its seven patents to manufacture fasteners for the construction industry, is a money-making machine.
"It's a shame that they can’t see GRK for what it is and that apparently it has to fit into whatever cookie-cutter they use at their head office," he said.
Mayor Keith Hobbs said it's never good news when people lose their job. But it's always a risk when major corporations are involved.
"That's what happens when private individuals decide to sell their business to an international company," he said.
The Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Corporation is already looking to discuss the situation with ITW Hobbs said.