MURRAY — In a situation such as the one Murray-Calloway County residents learned about Thursday morning with the announced loss of Murray’s Briggs & Stratton plant, one often seeks the proverbial silver lining to a black cloud.
Murray Calloway Economic Development Corporation President Mark Manning said Thursday that he hates the idea of one business’s tragedy becoming another’s opportunity. However, in this case, that may be in the works, and the result could mean at least some of the workers who learned they would be losing their jobs may have an opportunity to find employment in their hometown very soon.
That is because, though smaller in workforce, the DAE-IL auto parts manufacturing facility that is expected to open in early 2020 in the Murray West Industrial Park is going to have the same types of jobs available.
“If I’m DAE-IL, of course, I’m not happy about (the closing of a large plant in the same community), but it would give them an opportunity to review the employees who are with Briggs & Stratton,” Manning said of DAE-IL, which is expected to create about 120 jobs. The Briggs & Stratton plant employs more than 600 full-time workers.
“At its peak, they were at 1100 or 1200 at one time, but that was a while back. What kind of people are we talking about, though? We have very skilled people that are very marketable in today’s environment. They do die cast, machine work, heat treating, assembly, paint and fabrication. What is DAE-IL going to be working with? Metal. So this, I would think, is a very attractive labor force.”
The Briggs & Stratton Plant has been in Murray since 1985, having been the first plant within the Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based company to be established outside of that city. It moved into the former home of the Tappan manufacturing plant on Main Street on the east side of Murray’s downtown area, where various household appliances were created.
Tappan departed about two years before Briggs & Stratton arrived. Someone who remembers that time is Dr. Danny Claiborne, the chairman of the Institute for Engineering, Industry and Technology at Murray State University. Claiborne said a key to Briggs coming at that time is still in place – Murray and Calloway County have workers available.
“One of the things a company looks for is resources, and resources are employees,” Claiborne said, referring both to how DAE-IL can use the displaced Briggs workers, as well as how those workers’ presence makes Murray marketable for a new company to fill the forthcoming vacancy of the downtown facility.
“If they try to move into a community, but there no employees available, that’s not going to work too well. Now, we have not only good workers, but we have really great leadership and engineering staff, as well as management people to support several types of industries.”
Claiborne said the loss of Briggs is emotional for him, as well as the university’s engineering students and faculty.
“Goodness! I’m not sure I can begin to tell you all of the critical relationships we have with them,” he said. “They did provide funding to the institute of engineering and have for about 20 years. We used their facility almost like a classroom and, likewise, many of their engineering folks serve on our industrial advisory boards. It’s just been a two-way path back and forth to their facility.”
Manning said he intends to use the existing workforce in Murray to his advantage in seeking a suitor for the Briggs & Stratton facility.
“We are going to do everything humanly possible to turn this into a better situation,” he said.
In addition to the efforts of Manning and local elected official’s, the office of Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin said state officials plan to do whatever they can to help displaced workers.
“Our state and local economic development teams have been working with Briggs and Stratton leadership for many months in an effort to avoid closure and preserve their existing workforce within the Murray region,” Bevin said in a statement emailed to the Ledger & Times Thursday evening. “We are disappointed by today’s announcement, but we know that it was determined by Briggs and Stratton to be in the best, long-term business interests of their company. We fully respect this decision and are grateful for the many years that this world-class company partnered with the Murray community. We will do everything we can to assist the impacted families in West Kentucky, as we work with local leaders to help displaced employees overcome this challenge and transition to other great opportunities in the area.”