Tbnewswatch Local News
Friday July 3 2015
11:37 AM EDT
2014-08-06 at 13:56


GRK Fasteners will move out of Thunder Bay by the end of the year its former owner says.
Jamie Smith, tbnewswatch.com
GRK Fasteners will move out of Thunder Bay by the end of the year its former owner says.
By Jamie Smith, tbnewswatch.com

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.

Click here to submit a letter to the editor.

Click here to report a typo or error



We've improved our comment system.
Realist2014 says:
ITW lived up to the terms of the sale, if Uli was so concerned about keeping the company in Thunder Bay he should not have sold the company. He made his money, did he cry all the way to the bank. He is not leaving the employees with any severance pay. He has nothing to do with the company he sold it. ITW is giving the severance packages,ITW gave them plenty of heads up and opportunity to find new jobs. If he is such a Great Man he should open up his wallet and write a check to each employee from the profit he made when he sold the company to a huge corporation.
8/7/2014 7:52:26 PM
nvjgu says:
Would you rather pay 20 to 25hr, which by the way is break even wage in some parts of Canada, not to mention the hydro rates, or 12hr US and cheaper everything.
8/7/2014 12:13:14 PM
franklin123 says:
With the loss of the Horizon wind farm what business would want to come here or even stay here
8/7/2014 9:45:26 AM
YellowSnow13 says:
This new Liberal government is not helping by adding that Ontario Pension Plan they are going to bring in. Think about it. Lets say for argument sake each employee is going to pay into the plan $1000/year. You get paid less and the company has to match it. If you have 50 employees, that is $50,000/year the company has to give the government. It's another huge tax from the business point of view. They get nothing out of it at all. Can a business afford that? Now take a look at Bombardier and the 1300 people that work there. How long until they leave as well. That is $1,300,000 to the government for what, NOTHING! Glad you voted Liberal?
8/7/2014 9:30:52 AM
outside looking in says:
Bombardier already has a pension for their employees. They would not be part of the new Ontario Pension Plan as it only applies to workers not covered by a company pension.
8/7/2014 5:16:28 PM
rocky racoon says:
The wild speculation and complete non truths being posted in this thread are just mind boggling. As someone who spent many, many years at GRK, I can tell you first hand that it is not the city's fault that GRK is moving. I can also tell you that it has nothing to do with hydro rates, as GRK does not, and never has manufactured any products in Ontario (but I will say personally that Ontario hydro rates are a rip-off). It has nothing to do with shipping costs, because GRK's freight rates are extremely low, as they are based on back haul prices. And, lastly, GRK is very profitable in its current form.

GRK has always had a very unique corporate structure. 95% of GRK's sales have always been in the USA. This move is only due to ITW HQ not understanding the uniqueness of what they have in GRK. ITW's new management does not understand value, only commodity. That's why they can't bend their heads around the unique way in which GRK is set up and operates.
8/7/2014 9:02:59 AM
Royalflush says:
What ITW understands, is profit above all else. Just like any and all mad dog corporations.
8/8/2014 8:58:49 AM
oldtimerqt says:
Why stay ...
Too many extra costs in Ontario
Unemployment insurance too high ..along with the high cost of electricity cheaper even in Manitoba..
Shipping costs excessive and distribution difficult..for bigger markets..
Hydro water rates continue to rise and business insurance..
Travel on business by air too expensive..and too much travel time..
It is following the manufacturing pattern of companies in eastern Ontario that have closed their operations like Honeywell and many more ..
8/7/2014 7:25:06 AM
lovethiscity says:
I would like to first say thank you to Uli Walther for taking interest in our city and the opportunities he has provided for employment. But, I am completely surprised that he sold his business to an American company. Surely, in the back of his mind he knew this would happen. I believe he is the Chair of the board for the Chamber of Commerce. Is the Commerce and Uli Walther not trying to keep jobs and trades local? If this was a successful business and employed 40. I don't understand the sale!!! Or, maybe it is none of my business!!! Just my opinion.
8/6/2014 11:25:39 PM
progress now says:
We had a very bad recession in the 1980's and Canadians sought a way out. Free trade (and globalization) was offered as the answer - and Canadians would conquer the world. What the government never told you and the press never reported was that the government never expected Canadian enterprises to succeed globally over time outside of niche markets, We were going to be clobbered everywhere else.

What not even the government appeared to know was that big business would eventually track down and buy even the niche companies - and here we are today.

All the more reason to look beyond political hype AND media coverage and do the hard work to figure things out for yourself.

Lets start with the grossly hyped "vision" being offered in the north core. Now is as good a time as any to go beyond the sloganeering and sort it out for yourself.
8/6/2014 11:02:59 PM
albertallan says:
It may not be that Thunder Bay is the issue here. Yes, there are problems but when dealing with international corporations the profit margin is everything. Thunder Bay is not so much a cause, as a symptom of an over globalized economy.
There is simply no room at the table for the "little guy" anymore.
8/6/2014 10:12:13 PM
Royalflush says:
Finally someone who understands. Thunder Bay is not necessarilly the problem, and probably could not have done much to keep this business in town. The changing global economy is what puts pressure on businesses to compete, so that they have no choice but to move to the most economical location in order to survive. Thunder Bay is a victim of free trade, and those in municipal government had better adjust their rose coloured glasses to focus on the financial realities of this scenario. You certainly are not going to attract business by spending and taxing, as this present gang at the hall of mirrors is doing. People dont stay to party, when there are no jobs that pay more than minimum wage. I dont care what monuments you build, no jobs, no people. No people, no customers.
8/6/2014 11:33:36 PM
rocky racoon says:
Yes, it's kind of like that.
8/6/2014 8:36:22 PM
CM Punk says:
What I want to know is where are all those who say that the city is "booming."
Come on people, let us see you post now.
I don't think so because this is a telling tale or things are going to continue and see more of in the news locally speaking.

The city needs to figure things out in order to make itself more attractive for business to not only set up shop here but to stay viable and provide good paying jobs as well as good products and services for the consumer.

Nothing but min wage mc jobs that will just not work anymore. No govt will do what truly needs to be done because it would be the end of their political career so everyone is turning a blind eye.

TBay is too isolated and cannot sustain itself as a viable point of interest whether you are in business or just in general.
8/6/2014 7:20:18 PM
hatersGONNAhate says:
this isnt necessarily true. the issue is that yes, tbay is very isolated. in recent years we've actually had a rather large tech boom. our most common industries are starting to swing from production/manufacturing/etc of the "old days," and more to high-tech. due to the way education and so forth is set up, it takes some time to see the benefits of the swap in industry. tbay is booming - just not in the areas many people actually pay attention to.
8/7/2014 1:16:40 AM
Eastender says:
That large tech boom you describe, although welcome, was more a firecracker than a sonic boom. It has created a small surge in high tech, well paid jobs, and is heading Thunder Bay in a positive direction but at present is not sufficient enough to support the spending habits of this city council, and particularly administration. Maybe in 10 or 20 years Thunder Bay could be the tech capital of Northwestern Ontario, but right now it should be steady as she goes with tne tax increases. You dont want to kill tne goose that lays the golden egg, eh?
8/7/2014 9:32:08 AM
A sad story no doubt and very ironic. This fellow was all about fasteners , screws its seems in particular. So he looked to a German company, a country who are known for impecable workmanship in manufacturing. Uli knew if you wanted a good screw , look to the Germans. Then he picked thunder bay and fastened himself to our town!
Sadly i guess there is someone out their who will always have your price and perhaps
Uli knew being the little guy he couldnt last in the context of the big picture.
So then this ITW company attached themselves to GRK and did the germans one better. Not only did they buy him out....

..they the screws to him and his business....
8/6/2014 6:54:33 PM
ring of fire dude says:
Taxes , Taxes and more Taxes , that's the culprit . Skyrocketing hydro was and is the final nail in the coffin .
8/6/2014 6:47:10 PM
Shane Caker says:
The first thing that I'd do if I owned a "money making machine", is sell it and then complain what the new owners do with it. Yup. That's what I'd do.
8/6/2014 6:46:03 PM
tbayworker1999 says:
Uli had to sell it 3 years ago with no choice. Its not his fault at all. Its sad to see such a good company go out of Thunder Bay.
8/6/2014 10:04:44 PM
Kam River says:
Thunder Bay: High taxes, High Crime Rate, a mayor and council that are not neutral when strikes occur.
All of the above send a strong signal that business and the jobs the jobs that go with them are not wanted here.
8/6/2014 6:29:38 PM
fastball says:
Shaking a few hands on the picket line doesn't really count as being not "neutral". It's not as if the mayor involved himself one way or the other with the process. He was showing some solidarity to the workers (who are local taxpayers and voters) who will be going through some lean times until this gets resolved.
I'm sure his little meet-and-greet gesture hasn't got the company quaking in their corporate armchairs.
8/6/2014 10:00:48 PM
debt collector says:
ITW is a large company that business in 58 countries around the world.

They probably have room at one of their other facilities and realized they could save on overhead, shipping and salaries by moving the production line(s) and consolidating production with another plant that is already making these types of fasteners.
8/6/2014 6:07:29 PM
mrforreal says:
Uli was a great honest man, he had no idea what so every this could happen. He actually is leaving all the employees with a 1yrs severance pay and also the employees will be working at the company here in Thunder Bay until Dec 31st.. So he gave them plenty of heads up and opportunity to find new jobs. (or after Jan 1, 2015... start up for another 9 months of E.I. if desired) Great Man and Great Company considering what happened.
8/6/2014 5:51:40 PM
oscarmyerweiner says:
Glad to see some compassion and care from a company. You don't see that too often.
8/6/2014 9:15:40 PM
myusername says:
"He" as in Uli has nothing to do with the company anymore and therefore has no control over severance or how long it's open, so your comment is wrong. He hasn't been with the company for several months. So "he" is not giving severance to anyone.
8/7/2014 11:08:50 AM
tbayguitard says:
Sounds like a sad story - but what did Uli really expect would happen after the three years were up?
8/6/2014 5:48:31 PM
gurty says:
Make money and leave Canada, why not?
We are overtaxed, under subsidised and angry!
8/6/2014 5:35:32 PM
TBAY Opinion says:
Business goes SOUTH

Employees go WEST

8/6/2014 5:00:29 PM
Just Sayin' says:
I know Uli feels horrible about this happening, but hopefully the employees were all provided notice well in advance to seek alternative employment. Not many business people in this town capable and/or motivated to obtain the growth Uli has been able to provide. Best of luck, not sure the CEDC can help at all - It's not a city issue.

High shipping costs, no Chicago flight or International flights, and no proximity to a major urban centre must have played a toll.
8/6/2014 4:44:05 PM
nvjgu says:
Never heard of the place.
8/6/2014 4:13:07 PM
thisismyotheraccount says:
It's a shame it isn't at least staying in Canada.
8/6/2014 3:50:24 PM
jonthunder says:
This like other businesses move to other places because it is more competitive and profitable elsewhere. Without being too critical of the city, and other governments here; it would be very prudent and wise to take a hard honest look at how Thunder Bay could be a more viable place for such businesses; let's not stick our heads in the sand or run around like chickens with their heads cut off....let's use our heads!!
8/6/2014 3:48:57 PM
Joey_J says:
And cue the negativity, 3...2...1
8/6/2014 2:50:41 PM
fastball says:
....As opposed to the UPSIDE of this story?
8/6/2014 4:02:31 PM
Joey_J says:
Expecting people to make mountains out of molehills. Business leaving, infrastructure crumbling, sky is falling all the while ignoring the positive developments happening in the city: transition to a medical and education based economy.
8/6/2014 11:45:28 PM
fastball says:
I'm sure the all affected workers feel stupid now that you've explained it to them.
8/7/2014 3:33:39 PM
rob20 says:
What a stupid comment. Do you expect positivity and 3 cheers genius?
8/6/2014 4:25:41 PM
BuddhaMum says:
It's truly a shame when local business closes or moves but unfortunately I have to agree with Mayor Hobbs...once big business gets involved, people just become expendable numbers.
8/6/2014 2:37:20 PM
boofer69 says:
This is really sad to hear the city lose yet another local business.

The way this city is going more and more people are deciding to get out of here, but really, can we blame them???
8/6/2014 2:04:53 PM
Comments for this story are semi-moderated. Read our comment guideline.

Add a new comment.
You must log in to add comments.
Create a new account
Log In