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Academy Award maker plans layoffs in Chicago

CHICAGO – The company that makes the gold-plated Oscar statues will lay off almost 100 employees in the process of being bought out. But some workers could be rehired, it said, and the one-of-a-kind awards will still be produced on Chicago's north side.

R.S. Owens & Co. Inc. said in a notice this week to the Illinois Department of Commerce that it will lay off 95 of its roughly 250 workers on Dec. 17, the day it will be taken over by St. Regis Crystal. St. Regis has been an Owens competitor with home offices in Markham, Ontario, and Indianapolis.

Owens has made the statues for about 30 years and will continue to manufacture both the Oscars and the Emmy Awards statues, company President Scott Siegel said Friday. Most of the laid-off employees have applied for jobs with St. Regis, he said, though not all will be rehired.

Siegel, whose grandfather, Owen Siegel, started the company in 1938, said the company has struggled for several years. He blames its troubles on America's economic slowdown and competition from Chinese companies that have lower production costs.

"There's definitely some bittersweetness in that a third-generation, almost 75-year-old company is in a position where, due to the economy and due to China, we were forced to look to another company to partner with," Siegel said. "I'm hopeful however with the investment of capital in our company by St. Regis that we'll be perhaps able to automate more in the future and compete."

The 64-year-old Owens has worked for the company full-time since 1980, but said he worked there often even as a child.

Becoming the Oscar manufacturer in the early '80s, he said, "was a huge deal."

About 50 of the 13 1/2-inch-tall, half-pound statues are manufactured every year for the Academy Awards. The statues are made of a metal called brittanium, whose makeup is proprietary, and coated in gold.

Siegel said R.S. Owens will start work on the Oscar statues soon in advance of the Feb. 24 show. But right now, the factory is producing, among other things, trophies for this year's Cotton Bowl.

Part of the labor cost problem, Siegel said, is the time spent polishing the statues by hand.

"Just on the statuette, there's over an hour of polishing," he said, "and on the base there's probably 45 minutes of polishing."

St. Regis President Richard Firkser said that labor-intensive process is part of the reason his company is buying R.S. Owens.

"It's really the workmanship of the artisans in Chicago that make it happen," he said. "Unfortunately, it doesn't make economic sense to hire back each and every employee."

Firkser said he doesn't know yet how many will be rehired, and he declined to say how much St. Regis is paying for R.S. Owens.

The Owens name will continue to be used for the Oscars and other products made in Chicago.

An email request for comment sent by The Associated Press to The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was not returned.

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