Jon Huntsman’s campaign faults Mitt Romney for link to plant closure in New Hampshire

The campaign of Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman today attacked rival Mitt Romney for his responsibility in the closure of manufacturing plants in two early voting states. The campaign focused on an Associated Press story that detailed the closure of the South Carolina and New Hampshire plants of the Holson Burnes Group, a photo album manufacturing company controlled by Romney’s investment company, Bain Capital.

The Huntsman campaign held a conference call for reporters with Scott Pope, who was the mayor of Claremont, N.H., when the Holson Burnes plant closed in that city.

“Reading the [AP] article yesterday I was shocked at the realization that someone who’s running for president was part of something that would close down a plant, and people would lose jobs,’’ Pope said.

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Pope, a Huntsman supporter, said he was surprised to hear that Romney said on “Fox News Sunday’’ that he was never about “buying things, taking them apart, closing them down.’’

“He did close down the plant and broke apart the business,’’ Pope said.

Romney is doing a bus tour of New Hampshire today through Friday.

The Associated Press reported that Bain bought two companies – Hallmark’s Burnes of Boston and the Holson Company in the late 1980s. Bain combined them into the Holson Burnes Group and built a factory in South Carolina. But while sales grew, Holson Burnes was operating at a loss, the AP reported. The company closed the South Carolina plant in 1992, laying off workers there and moving the remaining jobs to Claremont, N.H. However, those jobs also did not last long.

The AP reported that the Claremont plant began furloughing workers after just seven months, as it sent more jobs overseas.

Pope said in the call that on April 7, 2005, he and the city manager received a letter notifying them that the Holson Burnes plant was closing. At that point, there were 37 people still working there, down from about 65 the previous year – and others had been laid off earlier. Overall, Pope said around 100 jobs were lost at the Claremont plant.

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“They were not lazy people, just people who wanted to live a small piece of the American dream,’’ Pope said.

Pope said the reason he was given for the closure was that the company was going to move plant operations to Mexico. Pope said a local boat building business later bought the facility.

Asked by a reporter whether this was simply the free market at work, Pope said the president has a responsibility to provide opportunity for people. And he said, while Romney has talked about creating jobs, “What I saw in the past, that didn’t happen.’’

Don Gobin, president of the Grantham, N.H., Chamber of Commerce also participated in the call.

Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul responded, “President Obama and his friends on the left are continuing their attacks on the free enterprise system – and by attacking free enterprise they are willingly dividing Americans. Mitt Romney has a quarter-century of experience working with entrepreneurs and real businesses in the real economy. With years of private sector experience and a comprehensive plan for our economy, Mitt Romney is the conservative candidate who can beat Barack Obama and ensure America remains a merit-based society, not an entitlement society.’’

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