200 Kodak Alaris jobs remain in Windsor after sale

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WINDSOR, Colo. (AP) - For decades, Windsor was, by all accounts, a Kodak town.

Eastman Kodak Company opened its Colorado division on the edge of Windsor in the late 1960s, where the film giant quickly employed hundreds, then thousands. Today, the company’s scope in the town of 20,000 has nearly faded from view.

Still, its influence lingers. Land donated from Kodak to the town became Eastman Park; Weld County Road 66 became Eastman Park Drive; and places such as Windsor’s library and fire department became recipients of large monetary donations from the company.

Kodak even once helped pay for half of Windsor’s sewer system improvements, contributing to the general infrastructure of the town.

“It was very exciting, especially if you came out here from Rochester, where everything was pretty stoic,” said Bud Miller, who moved his family from the company’s New York headquarters in 1971 and settled in Loveland to work at the Windsor facility. “To come out here and be able to have a fresh start with new facility and more freedom, it was exciting.”

And the company, according to Windsor’s Arts and Heritage Manager Carrie Knight, brought more than just Kodak employees to town.

Kodak’s presence in Windsor really helped the community move forward in the way of entertaining different business opportunities,” Knight said. “Kodak gave our community a great deal of leverage in attracting new businesses to this community.”

At the time of Kodak’s decision to build in Windsor, the town had been struggling after the closure of its main economic driver, the Great Western Sugar Co. After the photo giant’s arrival, however, the town was able to benefit greatly from the international company’s generosity and economic pull.

But, just as fiercely as it had burst onto the scene so many years ago, sales dropped, jobs were slashed and the company’s role in Windsor dwindled to almost nothing until it sold the Colorado facility last April to its largest creditor, Kodak Alaris, which recently announced more job cuts at the site.

It seems that the company once responsible for bolstering a small, floundering Northern Colorado town, in the end, may not be able to save itself.

Kodak basically owned the photography businesses for a long, long time, but they made errors along the way,” said Miller, who worked there for 27 years before retiring in 1991.

Kodak, by 1976, had accounted for 90 percent of film and 85 percent of camera sales in America, according to The Economist. In 1988, it employed more than 145,000 people across the world and reported its highest revenues at almost $16 billion in 1996.

At one point, the Windsor facility alone employed thousands, Kodak spokesman Chris Veronda previously told the Coloradoan.

The rise of digital photography and advances in technology - such as smartphones that double as cameras - ended up posing the ultimate challenge to the once-great photography pioneer, according to The Economist.

The company began emptying out some buildings on the Windsor campus in 2007, cut hundreds of jobs at the facility in 2009, leveled four of its buildings in 2011 and sold off pieces of its land the following year.

In January 2012, after seeing its share price plummet almost 90 percent the year before and reporting hundreds of millions of dollars in losses, Eastman Kodak filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and spent much of 2012 making executive changes, cutting jobs and ending several retiree benefits to save money.

“It’s a mere shadow of what it once was, and I feel sorry for those folks who are burdened with trying to make it a world-class organization again; they’ve got their work ahead of them,” Miller said. “I wish them all the luck in the world.”

Kodak Alaris, a company separate from Kodak, which now owns and runs the Windsor site, cut 10 percent of its workforce - roughly 20 jobs - earlier this month.

More than 200 people now work at the facility, said Kodak Alaris Worldwide Communications Director Audrey Jonckheer.

“(Windsor) is going to continue to be a key manufacturing site for us,” Jonckheer said, adding that the facility is the worldwide supplier of Kodak Alaris’s thermal donor ribbons and display film products as well as the site of its regional finishing operations for color negative paper and thermal products.

“The changes in staffing really are part of a plan to drive efficiency, and people may not quite understand that, but oftentimes in order to streamline efficiency sometimes those sort of staffing changes do need to take place,” Jonckheer said.

From Kodak Alaris’s perspective, the Windsor site remains an important piece of its business now and in the future, she added.

Bud Miller’s daughter, Stacy Johnson, was - at 5 weeks old - possibly the youngest Kodak transplant to come to Colorado for Kodak.

Johnson now works in Windsor as director of the town’s economic development department.

While mentioning Kodak bringing numerous jobs to the area and attracting other businesses and companies to Windsor, Johnson said the town is not just looking back on the company’s contributions.

“While they brought a lot and they meant a lot to Windsor, I think we will continue to look toward the future to fill the vacancies that occur as they downsize and if they decide to leave completely,” Johnson said.

Echoing Johnson’s thoughts, Knight, spoke of how important Kodak has been to the town and what it’s meant for the area’s future.

“Very early on, I think Windsor had an understanding that it had a partner, a community partner, in Kodak,” Knight said, noting its many contributions to the town.

“I think that Kodak remains a presence in the community, and we have much to be thankful for their presence here, but we understand that things change so quickly in the economic climate of Northern Colorado, and I think that they’ve provided us good preparation for moving into that next chapter,” Knight said.

As for the change in Kodak’s presence within the town, Knight said she thinks the community has felt it “keenly,” especially the people, including Miller, who worked at the site for years.

“There were some fun days and I have some good memories,” Miller recalled. “I think I was just lucky to live through that era and be part of it all because it really was a great place to work.”

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Information from: Fort Collins Coloradoan, http://www.coloradoan.com

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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