More than 200 to lose jobs at Poplar Bluff plant

Thursday, March 22, 2012 | 6:45 p.m. CDT

POPLAR BLUFF — Briggs & Stratton Corp. of Milwaukee continues to reduce its manufacturing capacity due to a prolonged decline in the lawn and garden market, resulting in the layoff of 210 permanent employees at its plant in Poplar Bluff.

The layoff will be effective April 12, according to a news release issued Thursday.

"The economic environment and levels of consumer spending on outdoor power equipment continues to be challenging, particularly in Europe. We will adjust production schedules to better align with decreased market demand," said Dave DeBaets, vice president of Briggs & Stratton's North American operations. "Although these decisions are difficult, evaluation of our manufacturing footprint is an ongoing process as we consider productivity and efficiency gains along with the changes in the markets we serve."

Plant manager Mark Melloy said approximately 1,050 workers are currently employed. The layoffs will drop that number to 840. The plant operates three assembly lines on the day shifts and one second shift.

"We will shut down the second shift line on April 12," Melloy said. "We are forecasting to bring this line back in October for the next lawn and garden season."

This is the second layoff Briggs & Stratton has announced at the Poplar Bluff plant in the past six months.

Starting Oct. 14, the firm began laying off 110 full- and part-time employees and 92 seasonal workers.

"At our peak production a year ago, we had 1,500 employees, including 250 seasonal workers," Melloy said.

On Jan. 26, Briggs & Stratton announced the closing of two plants.

"Since 2004, the U.S. lawn and garden market has declined over 33 percent. This significant and prolonged market decline is unlike any other this industry has seen in decades," said Todd Teske, chairman, president and CEO of Briggs & Stratton.

The firm will move existing manufacturing from its Newbern, Tenn., plant, which opened five years ago, to its facility in McDonough, Ga. Operations are expected to wind down by May 15 with approximately 240 regular employees and 450 temporary workers being affected. The Newbern plant manufactures walk-behind lawn mowers and snow throwers for the U.S. domestic market.

In Europe, the plant at Ostrava in the Czech Republic, which opened in 2006, was closed on March 15, affecting approximately 77 regular employees. Production at this facility, which manufactures small engines for the outdoor power equipment industry, was shifted to the plant in Murray, Ky.

"These changes will better align our production capacity to the markets we serve and are a necessary step in executing our strategy to grow the profitability of our business and invest our resources in high margin and margin expanding areas," Teske said.

Briggs & Stratton started production in Poplar Bluff in 1989 with 370 employees. There were plant expansions in 1994 and 2004 and a medical clinic built in 2004.

In 2005, the firm added a third assembly line in a warehouse west of the plant. Approximately 350 jobs were added over the next two years.

The warehouse was leased 10 years before it was purchased from Poplar Bluff Industries, the industrial division of the Greater Poplar Bluff Area Chamber of Commerce. New machining equipment was added to this warehouse in 2007, bringing the total manufacturing capacity to 408,000 square feet in Poplar Bluff.

Machines were moved from the plant in Rolla, Mo., which closed in 2007 after 12 years of operation. The Rolla plant had employed 480 workers.

In 2009, Mid South Investments of Poplar Bluff completed a 125,000-square foot warehouse on property owned by Poplar Bluff Industries. Briggs & Stratton leased the warehouse on the south side of its plant to reduce the cost of renting smaller warehouses in other communities.

Termination of a lease on a small warehouse along Cravens Road west of the Union Pacific railroad becomes effective in April. Poplar Bluff Industries constructed this building in 2000 to attract a new industry to Poplar Bluff. Briggs had leased the warehouse for several years.

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