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Hard-Hit Town Can't Salvage DHL Jobs

DHL Express said Friday it has decided to move U.S. hub operations for its international business to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

Company spokesman Jonathan Baker confirmed the move, after word leaked out following an announcement to employees Thursday night at Wilmington's DHL Air Park. The Wilmington News-Journal reported the announcement earlier Friday.

DHL will reactivate its automated sorting facility at the northern Kentucky airport and finish the move by mid- to late summer. DHL had used the Kentucky facility from 1983 until its move to Ohio in 2005.

DHL's pullout from Wilmington had been expected. It will eliminate about 8,000 jobs from the southwest Ohio community of 12,000 residents. Wilmington has drawn national attention as an example of the economic struggles of small U.S. communities during the recession.

As 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley reported in January, Airborne Express turned Wilmington's abandoned Air Force base into a hub for overnight shipping in 1980. Eight thousand people found work at what they call "the air park." Then, in 2003 a German company, DHL, bought Airborne in an effort to win a big piece of the U.S. market. It didn't work.

The merger was rocky, there were service disruptions, and customers left in droves, Pelley reported. With last fall's economic crash, DHL was losing $6 million a day in the U.S.; layoffs started coming by the hundreds.

Baker said Friday DHL already has 200 employees in northern Kentucky and expects to add some 180 full-time positions and 650 part-time jobs there. He said all current and former Wilmington Air Park employees are encouraged to apply for jobs at the airport in Hebron, Ky., more than 50 miles southwest of Wilmington.

DHL said in a statement that the move "will be more cost-effective for handling the company's international express shipping volumes, and is expected to improve DHL's long-term financial position."

Wilmington Mayor David Raizk said Friday morning he hadn't been contacted yet by DHL and declined to comment immediately.

Disappointed workers at Wilmington Air Park were told of the move by DHL at midnight Thursday, said truck driver Mitchell Adams.

"But it's not like we haven't been under this cloud for a while," Adams said. "Everybody is upset. We're all being professional about it."

He said working at the Cincinnati-area airport isn't an option for him. He lives in Jeffersonville, Ohio, more than 70 miles away.

"Job hunting at my age is not going to be fun," said Adams, 58.

Ohio state officials planned to comment later Friday.

Leading Ohio politicians had been pushing to try to salvage jobs for Wilmington. During last year's presidential campaign, Democrat Barack Obama met with community officials and workers during stops in nearby Dayton, Ohio, while Republican nominee John McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin both visited Wilmington.

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