BENTON — The sudden closure of boat manufacturer BRP’s Benton plant took workers and city leaders by surprise last week.
About 340 BRP employees were scheduled to return to work Monday after seasonal leave when the news came Friday.
The company, based in Valcourt, Quebec, Canada, said the decline in sales in the marine industry, especially those of sport boats, forced the closure of the Bombardier Recreational Products Inc. plant.
“It’s just devastating to the people who lost their jobs and to the people of Benton and Franklin County. BRP was probably one of the biggest employers in the county, if not the biggest,” Benton Mayor Gary Kraft said. “The boat industry has been the staple in Franklin County for 17 years. They moved in when the coal mines were shutting down.”
Kraft said he learned of the closure early Friday.
“I’m told the warehouses were still full from the spring, when they should have been empty,” he said. “Because of the national economy, people are not buying pleasure craft.”
The county had an unemployment rate of 12.5 percent in July, one of the highest in the state.
“It seems like we take two steps forward and three steps back,” Kraft said. “We’re going to see the effects. Revenue will start going down.
“Some of these people will have to leave the area to get jobs. It’s just a dismal situation.”
The company has promised a “good transition package” for affected employees and help may be available through the state’s Rapid Response Team, which offers assistance to dislocated workers, said Jamie Galli of Man-Tra-Con Corp.
Training services, job search assistance and other help could be made available for the former BRP workers.
“It all depends on the funding,” she said.
Since word of the layoffs just came Friday, planning for the response is in its early stages, Galli said. More information is expected in coming days.
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