ITT Rule Industries, the West Gloucester company that revolutionized the bilge pump and became a leading marine equipment manufacturer and innovator from its home in Cape Ann Industrial Park, is moving its production line to Mexico, its corporate parent announced yesterday.
The move will result in the loss of 87 local jobs at a time of rising unemployment throughout the state and tough times for Cape Ann's other large industrial businesses.
The recession and collapse of the recreational boat market forced ITT, the international conglomerate that bought Rule in 1998, to consolidate production of all of its marine and recreational vehicle equipment to a plant in the city of Chihuahua in north central Mexico, a company spokesman said.
"This decision does not reflect the quality of the workforce," Tom Glover of ITT said yesterday. "This will allow us to remain competitive long term."
"All of our competitors are manufacturing in China and Mexico," he added.
Forty-eight white-collar workers in marketing, administration, finance, human resources, engineering and customer service will be retained at the Kondelin Road facility, which is owned by ITT, Glover said.
Cuts to the local work force will be phased in, Glover said, starting in August and accelerating through the fall, until all manufacturing is halted by the end of 2009.
Rule Industries began in the Beverly Farms garage of founder Clinton Rule, a self-described "crackpot inventor" whose struggle with a leaky boat inspired him to develop a new bilge pump design that would come to lead the world market.
In the 1970s, Rule expanded into design and production of a number of different marine products, including saws, paint, anchors and electronics. Rule also owned the historic Paint Factory for a period of time after acquiring it in 1979.
After Rule sold the company, it passed through the hands of a number of owners before landing with ITT — the engineering and manufacturing giant based in White Plains, N.Y., with multiple businesses related to managing the flow of liquids, from wastewater to ocean water. The company has $11 billion in annual sales.
Under ITT control, Gloucester's Rule factory developed not only pumps, but winches, toilets and compasses.
Innovations developed at the plant allowed the company to produce compasses, marketed under the Danforth brand, that could be used all over the world without dipping and shaking when they experience large changes in latitude and global position.
It was quiet at the Rule factory parking lot yesterday afternoon, with only a few employees heading home for the day and fewer interested in discussing the future closing.
"It's just one of those economic things," a man said before he got in his truck.
Glover said the performance of ITT's marine businesses has been "reflective of the overall business downturn" and sales of equipment to boat builders and retail are both down.
The plant in Chihuahua — some 300 miles south of El Paso, Texas, on the Rio Grande River, and perhaps best known for the dog that bears its name and as home of famed Mexican bandit and revolutionary Pancho Villa — will handle the production of all of the marine products that had been made in Gloucester, Glover said.
"It is a bad day for Gloucester," said former Mayor John Bell, who worked with Rule officials for years to keep the company in Gloucester and to encourage it to expand its business. "Gloucester people and the genius of Clint Rule built the Rule brand. People who have been touched by Rule in Gloucester will be devastated."
Bell said that, over the last several years he had been talking with Rule officials, and the facility had been "in limbo," with questions circling about ITT's vision for the facility and how it would fare in ongoing rounds of consolidation.
"It is part of the downside of being part of a large global company that thinks globally, not locally," Bell said. "It was a good run in Gloucester."
Patrick Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org,