MURRAY — In discussing last week’s news that the Briggs & Stratton manufacturing facility in Murray would be closing, Murray Calloway Economic Development Corporation President Mark Manning immediately focused on two advantages the community has going forward.
First was the available workforce, as the plant’s closing is going to produce opportunities for potential suitors to take advantage of the talents and experience of more than 600 people in a community that is also home to a highly-respected engineering program at a four-year university.
The other was the soon-to-be-vacated building along Main Street in the eastern part of the city’s downtown area. Manning said there is a lot to offer with that sprawling facility, which he estimates occupies between 200,000 and 250,000 square feet.
“The building itself may be a little old; it’s rough around the edges, but it’s a good building,” Manning said, invoking a brief history lesson that he hopes could provide the blueprint to success. “That was the Tappan building (for a home appliance company that left in 1980) and, when Tappan left, the community was able to get control of that building and attract Briggs & Stratton. It was Briggs & Stratton’s first plant outside of Milwaukee (Wisconsin).
“I talked to one of the senior people at Briggs (last week) and they really haven’t gotten that far, as far as what they think about the future of the building. I did express that we want to be a big part of that decision and I’m hopeful that in the very near future, they will allow an evaluation of their facility as it relates to our purposes.”
Manning said the process of evaluating the building would involve several engineers and environmental experts.
“It’s not a situation of you walking through a house and deciding if you like it or not. It’s much more complicated than that,” he said. “There are some very good things about that building. It has a tremendous amount of infrastructure, lots of power, lots of natural gas. It’s set up for heavy manufacturing, and those are good things.
“The things we really have to evaluate is making sure there’s no environmental issues that would prohibit someone from acquiring the property. That would be No. 1, along with looking at the footprint.”
Manning said the building by today’s standards is “a good-size building” that is not much beyond average.
“It might be a good fit for a smaller company or a slightly smaller company, but we just don’t know that,” he said, adding that he had received some inquiries about the building after the news broke last week. “A. You don’t know how serious they are at this point and there are ‘tire kickers’ everywhere. B, until we have a thorough evaluation of that building, I won’t say it’s pointless, but it’s not orderly.”
Murray also has a history of filling a vacated major industrial facility, and actually has done it twice. In 1985, Briggs & Stratton filled the vacancy left by the Tappan plant’s departure. Then came the more recent comeback, one that Manning was able to witness with the Pella windows and doors company choosing to fill the facility left vacant by the departure of Mattel in 2001. Within about a year, Pella was committing to that mission and Manning recalled last week how Mattel equipment was being moved out of the facility at the same time Pella materials were being moved into it.
“We have skilled people that are very marketable in today’s environment, so we have an attractive labor force in a very attractive community,” Manning said. “Now, unfortunately, it does look like the manufacturing economy is slowing down right now, but there is somebody out there that needs what we have and we will do our best to find them and make it easy for them to find us.
“‘Comfortable’ is not a word I want to use at this point (as far as knowing Murray’s bounce-back history). I will not be comfortable until we replace these jobs and more.”