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Bush Hog shut down for at least two weeks

JEFF KEELING • Jan 7, 2009 at 12:00 AM

A Bush Hog factory in Telford that opened in 2002 is shutting down for at least two weeks, and a local economic developer said Tuesday he hopes the layoff will indeed be brief. A source close to the situation said the Selma, Ala.-based company plans to reassess projected demand for its products late next week and decide whether to bring the workers back or extend the layoff anadditional two weeks. Bush Hog, owned by the Crown family of Chicago, produces front-end loaders, zero-turn mowers and backhoes in a 330,000-square-foot plant at the Washington County Industrial Park. The Business Journal listed its employment level at 255 last spring — company officials originally expected the plant to employ 450 people at full capacity. Calls to the local plant were referred to David Middlebrooks, a human resources director in Selma, who did not return a message Tuesday. The Selma Times-Journal reported Tuesday that employees at the Selma plant also were furloughed for two weeks. P.C. Snapp, who directs the local economic development board, said Tuesday the economy’s contraction is leaving not just local manufacturers but other employers with some tough decisions. “Some are cutting back to a four-day work week, which I think is prudent on their part, because I don’t think they just want to turn well-trained employees loose •and then be unable to get them back when they need people,” Snapp said. However, in addition to Bush Hog, the last few months have seen either temporary layoffs or permanent shutdown announcements at several local manufacturing facilities, as well as a large telemarketing center, Wyndham Vacation Ownership. Snapp said he hopes the Bush Hog shutdown will be temporary, but neither he nor Washington County officials had heard anything definitive from the company. “With the Selma layoffs, I would surmise it’s a companywide situation,” Snapp said. Meanwhile, two sister companies that opened this year across from Bush Hog in the industrial park have had the luxury of “making haste slowly” with the onset of the economic slowdown. Koyo and Nakatetsu produce bearings and other parts for the auto industry, with Toyota being their primary customer. Nakatetsu’s administration manager, Jeff Carter, said the company has around 35 employees right now but has made additional capital investment to be ready for expansion. Between them, the companies employ close to 100 people now. “We are still installing additional machining lines and other equipment, but we have been affected by the slowdown,” Carter said. “We’re not at the level we had hoped we would be by this time.” The key at this point, Carter said, is making sure the plant hires and trains enough employees to meet demand when it does rise again. “We have a long training period, and it takes awhile to get people competent on the equipment here,” he said. “I do see us hiring some more folks in 2009, but we don’t know the exact date or numbers now.” With job cuts coming at a steady pace recently, the EDB’s Snapp said his agency is focusing on two main things: keeping in contact with existing companies to see if there are ways EDB can help, and staying in constant touch with the “site selectors” seeking locations for those companies that are opening new sites even now. “Those are the people you need to keep in contact with in our business,” Snapp said.

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