Traditionally I have resisted responding directly to Marshall Ward’s column, but this past week’s diatribe of loose facts claiming that local leaders and Gov. Matt Bevin are to blame for Briggs and Stratton’s exit from Murray is preposterous. He equivocates simply to support his liberal and progressive philosophy and appears to be more interested in fireworks than the welfare of the employees of Briggs and their families.
Looking back, I find it interesting that next Sunday, Sept. 15, will be the 39th anniversary of the Tappan Stove Company’s closing in Murray, the current site of Briggs and Stratton located on Main Street. As a young reporter, new to Murray, I quickly learned that Tappan closed for two main reasons: union problems and vandalism of products being shipped out for distribution, both apparently related.
So, Briggs coming to Murray a short time later was a breath of fresh air. I was there, recording then Murray Mayor Melvin Henley with the announcement at the old Dakota Feed and Grain Restaurant located at Five points. And so, it was. And, soon the plant would have a thousand workers. Then at some point, production changes would dictate fewer workers, about 600 in all. And here we are today, another chapter.
So why did Briggs leave? Mr. Ward rhetorically suggests Missouri offered $175,000 in skills training dollars and Calloway County is not capable of providing such funds because we are not certified. But what he doesn’t realize is that Murray-Calloway governments offered Briggs and Stratton Corporation way more training dollars than Missouri, plus they agreed to add on to the Main Street facility. The Governor’s Office made numerous attempts to work with the corporate officers as well as offering incentives.
However, the reality is that Poplar Bluff’s current Briggs facility has lots of empty space and is newer, whereas Murray’s is cramped and is quite old comparatively, even with an add-on.
Mr. Ward’s liberal packed argument that Right to Work is another reason the company left Murray also needs to be addressed. The fact is that corporations are lining up to come to Kentucky because of Right to Work, as evidence of manufacturing plants opening all over the state and particularly throughout the Purchase area. Record numbers of manufacturing jobs with good pay are here or are coming, because likely they can operate without a union through Right to Work legislation passed by the Kentucky General Assembly and signed by Gov. Bevin.
The truth is that the Briggs and Stratton Corporation is in financial trouble. In mid-August, they lost more than 40% of their value and when you look back over the past two years, they’ve lost about 60% of their value. To give further context, on July 2, 2004, Briggs and Stratton’s stock price was $44.13 a share and later that year, in November, the stock split 2 for 1. A year ago, they traded at $20 a share. In the past few weeks, the stock hit a record low of under $4 a share. Financial trading companies have rated the stock as a “sell.”
There are multiple factors that led to this downturn, according to their CEO, Todd Teske, including a cool, wet spring, record high temperatures in Europe, the bankruptcy of Sears Holdings and only recently sensing the need to enter the battery powered mower market. Regarding Sears, Teske said, “Sears is a little bit bigger than perhaps what we even thought because… we don’t see a whole lot of activity other than liquidation going on at their inventory.”
It is truly sad that Briggs is leaving our community, but it is not because local officials gave up on the company, or that local workers did anything wrong. It’s like Mark Schwertfeger – Chief Financial Officer and Senior Vice President of Briggs commented in their stockholders meeting recently, “Let me be clear, delivering our balance sheet is a key focus.”
Let me emphasize this, we should all take time to focus on what really matters — the families impacted by this horrible situation. We need to do everything possible to encourage them. One thing for sure is that Governor Bevin, his cabinet and Murray leadership are concentrating on developing additional opportunities for this community.
While this is disappointing, I hope Briggs and Stratton can survive their cashflow problem going forward. Throughout the years they have partnered in many community activities and we have benefited greatly. Additionally, they have given workers several months before they officially close.
I realize that’s not a satisfying answer, but it is important to set the record straight and not politicize these difficult times. God bless the employees of Briggs and Stratton and their families.
Greg DeLancey is the 1st District chairman for the Republican Party of Kentucky. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.