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Erwin's Morrill Motors lays off 45 workers

JIM WOZNIAK • Feb 3, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Morrill Motors, one of Unicoi County’s larger employers, and its two divisions, which have a total employment of more than 400, have laid off about 45 people, the latest victim of a shaky economy, a corporate official said Monday.

Terry Colvin, vice president of human resources for parent company Regal-Beloit, said the layoffs occurred in about the last week. He said the corporation hopes the employees can be reinstated at some point but that it is unclear whether that can happen.

“We feel absolutely horrible,” said Colvin, who works in the corporate office in Beloit, Wis., but has been to Erwin a couple of times. “We have as good (a group of) employees in Erwin as we have in our organization. They’re just a good group of people. We take this seriously and feel bad this has to happen.”

Morrill makes motors for supermarket display cases, commercial ice machines, beverage dispensers, heaters and water coolers.

County Mayor Greg Lynch called the news unfortunate but was pleased there was a chance the employees of Morrill, A.B. Plastics and R.M. Engineering could be called back to work.

“I just hope this isn’t the tip of the iceberg so to speak,” he said. “It’s kind of not a good time to be mayor when these things are going on and you’re kind of helpless. You can rest assured we’ll look and see if anything to be done (to help).”

Lynch said he had hoped the national economy would start to re-energize before Unicoi County started feeling the pinch.

According to Colvin, Regal-Beloit was hopeful it would not get hit by the state of the economy. In fact, 2008 was “a pretty good year,” Colvin said. In November, Regal-Beloit announced record financial reports for the third quarter even though raw material cost inflation and “challenging” global economics were in the picture.

“We were hoping we were maybe immune,” Colvin said.

But Morrill caught the financial bug that has afflicted other companies, so the layoffs occurred. Colvin said the majority of affected employees were factory workers.

“We happen to be in one of the tougher times,” he said.

The story was much as the same at NN Ball and Roller, which laid off 30 employees at its Erwin plant in December and 15 employees at its Mountain City plant in November. NN had enjoyed record profits through the third quarter in 2008 but warned early in November that the global economic crisis meant tough sailing in the future.

According to Colvin, Regal-Beloit entities examine the employment numbers to determine where they need to be. “Usually, it’s positive,” he said. “Lately, that hasn’t been the case, unfortunately.” Colvin said some layoffs have occurred in Regal-Beloit’s China operations, but he was not sure whether the Morrill plant there had been affected.

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