Fountain Inn layoffs could be a blessing in disguise

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About 100 people in Fountain Inn are scheduled to lose their jobs when a Wisconsin company called Fisher Barton closes its lawnmower blade plant in September.

But it may well turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the workers.

They’re getting laid off at a time when South Carolina employers are struggling to find enough labor. As a result, their chances of landing a new job are better than they have been in many years, and it may even come with better pay and working conditions.

Camilla Haigler, human resources manager at the Fisher Barton plant, said she notified fellow human resources managers around the Upstate when she learned on July 19 that the plant would be closing.

As of Aug. 1, she said, 34 companies had responded, expressing an interest in contacting the employees who are getting laid off.

“We’re all competing for the same people with unemployment being so low,” Haigler said.

Haigler, who is losing her own job after just eight months with Fisher Barton, said she’s inviting interested employers to a “job fair” in the plant’s canteen.

South Carolina’s unemployment rate was 4 percent in June, the lowest rate since December 2000, according to the latest data from the state Department of Employment and Workforce.

Jonathan Coleman, executive director of the Laurens County Development Corp., the county’s economic development organization, said there are hundreds of job openings within several miles of the Fisher Barton plant.

The ZF Transmissions plant, located less than 5 miles away in Gray Court, needs about 200 workers, he said.

“Every one of our industries will take a good employee,” Coleman said. “They’re all hiring.”

In addition, Coleman said he’ll be happy to have a vacant industrial building to market once Fisher Barton moves out.

“We don’t have any available buildings in the county right now,” he said.

The Fisher Barton plant makes lawnmower blades for the original equipment and replacement markets as well as other metal parts. The company has marketed the plant as the “low-cost supplier.”

Fisher Barton says it’s relocating its production in Fountain Inn to Wisconsin, its home state. But the company has been mostly tight-lipped about the reason why.

Bill Sanders, the plant’s president, cited only “business conditions and the decision to end manufacturing operations” in a July 19 notice to the Department of Employment and Workforce.

The plant pays assembly-line workers an average of $15 an hour, Haigler said.

That’s less than the hourly pay being advertised by two manufacturers and one staffing agency on billboards along Interstate 385 in the Fountain Inn and Simpsonville areas.

Nonwoven fabrics maker Fitesa is advertising $16-an-hour pay at its Simpsonville plant on one of the billboards.

On another billboard, hydraulics equipment maker Bosch Rexroth says $16 an hour is starting pay at its factory complex in the Southchase industrial park in Fountain Inn.

MAU Staffing Solutions is declaring on another billboard that its pay range for assembly-line work at BMW Manufacturing Co. is $16.50-$17.50 an hour. And right now, MAU is offering a $2,000 signing bonus, said Jared Mogan, the company’s Greenville-based regional operations manager.

 

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