“You’re competing with people who don’t have health care, don’t have automobiles, don’t have dinner on the table every night,” said Bob Scott, chairman of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association. “We don’t want to become a Third-World enterprise ourselves just so we can compete. Our local industry has to look at creative ways to change so we can retain some core jobs.” Indeed, Superior mentioned in its announcement of the job cuts that its Van Nuys facility will focus mainly on its specialty operations, producing higher margin parts in lower volumes. With the company’s primary customers, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors, in the midst of massive restructuring and layoffs, Ackerman said the after-market segment could be a way for Superior to maintain a niche within the industry. On Thursday, after the news had set in at the plant on Woodley Avenue, the mood was sedate. Workers leaving to take their lunch didn’t have much to say, shrugging and avoiding talking about the huge cutbacks announced the day before. “Sure, it’s sad, but what can you do?” said one employee, who declined to give his name. “Just look at the automotive industry.” For Ariel Carner, who runs the lunch truck that pulls up out front around noon each day, years of trimming staff have already manifested in his daily take-home. “They put in new buildings and new machinery, so you can’t believe they’re laying people off,” he said, waiting for customers. “I used to make $1,500 bucks a day working over here; now I’m lucky if I make $800, $900. This was good territory before, but all the companies are leaving.” Superior’s stock fell $1.03 on Thursday, losing more than 4 percent to close at $22.18. Brent Hopkins, (818) 713-3738 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESanta Anita opens winter meet Saturday with loaded card It offered no timeline for the job cuts, but said it would incur $1.5 million charges related to the layoffs. “They’re just getting killed by foreign competition,” said Bruce Ackerman, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley. “Superior’s been a stellar leader in that field for years, but as a completely American manufacturer, you’ve got so much competition with China and to some extent India, they can’t compete.” And so the 35-year-old company has begun the shift out of the United States into lower-priced Mexican plants. It currently owns two, with a third expected to open in the latter half of the year. “We view this as a positive since it highlights a sense of urgency on management’s part to improve profitability in a tough operating environment,” Atul Agarwal, an equity analyst with Sidoti & Co., an independent research company in New York, wrote in a note to clients. “In our opinion, this is the first of several plant rationalizations that the company will undertake this year as it begins to transfer production from the U.S. to Mexico.” Agarwal projects that the shift from “less-efficient, high-cost U.S. facilities” will boost Superior’s operating margin to 4.1 percent in 2007, up significantly from the 1.6 percent he expects it to show this year. He noted that with the company’s domestic competitor, Amcast International, in bankruptcy and focusing on low-cost parts and its international rivals able to compete with much lower labor costs, Superior finds itself squeezed from all sides. VAN NUYS – The rust-colored sign outside Superior Industries International Inc. still reads “employment opportunities,” but there are about to be a lot fewer at the automobile wheel-maker’s headquarters. Facing a contracting industry and fierce international competition, the company finds itself in the middle of a dramatic realignment. After announcing several weeks ago that it intends to sell its money-losing suspension components business, Superior said Wednesday that it plans to lay off 375 workers from its Van Nuys plant, 41 percent of the headquarters’ 635 manufacturing jobs. This marks the second major job loss in the Valley in recent weeks, with Washington Mutual announcing on Jan. 19 that it would send 1,000 call center jobs to San Antonio. Superior declined to comment on the layoffs, aside from issuing a statement saying the plant will remain open to focus on the specialty market and that its 125 corporate staffers will not be affected.