Arlington boatbuilder shutting down; hundreds to lose jobs

ARLINGTON — Meridian Yachts, one of north Snohomish County’s largest employers, will close its doors within 60 days because of a dramatic decline in boat sales nationwide.

Earlier this year, the company had about 830 employees. All but a few customer service workers will lose their jobs.

Workers were stunned at the announcement, which was made Thursday at an all-employee meeting.

“Many people cried,” said Antonio Ibarra of Mount Vernon, who has worked at the company for seven years. “The plant manager almost cried. He had a big speech, but he could not talk. We thought we were working for a company that was strong.”

Sergo Ruben-Lopez, who joined Ibarra for a beer at the Buzz Inn after work, said the shutdown was a big loss.

“The economy is not good,” he said. “Even harder times are coming. Hopefully the economy will heal, but it won’t be soon enough and there aren’t many companies to go to look for work.”

Ruben-Lopez said he supports a family of five and added he does not know what he will do after the layoffs come in December.

“Our hearts go out to them,” said Dan Kubera, director of corporate relations for the Brunswick Corp., which owns the plant. “It’s a decision that had to be made.”

In addition to Arlington, the company plans to shut plants in Ripestone, Minn.; Roseburg, Ore.; and Navassa, N.C. Workers at three other plants near Knoxville, Tenn., will be furloughed until the end of the year.

“We are living and working in the most turbulent economic times in recent history,” Dustan McCoy, Brunswick chairman and chief executive, said in a news release. “From the start of the year, we’ve experienced a 3,500-point drop in the Dow, mortgage and housing crises, record prices for oil, and, now, shrinking credit availability for companies and individuals.”

All, he added, have “eroded the demand for boats and engines these past few months at a swifter pace than originally anticipated.”

Brunswick, which four months ago cut 1,000 jobs, had planned to cut 1,450 more in 2009, slashing its costs by $300 million. The company accelerated the timing of its cutbacks because of plummeting sales in July and August, Kubera said.

“At the first of the year, sales were down 30 percent,” he said. “In the last two months, sales have dropped 40 percent.”

At Arlington City Hall, news of the closure was very disappointing, city spokeswoman Kristin Banfield said.

“The families of their employees live here, go to school here and shop here, and that’s where we’re going to see it,” Banfield said. “Arlington is the original home of Bayliner boats and we’re going to be sad to see them go.”

Meridian worker Katie Maxwell agreed that the shutdown is a blow to the community.

“Arlington cannot support hundreds of unemployed workers,” she said. “I have four kids and I don’t know what I’m going to do about them. What will the families do who have two people working for the company or have retirements or those who’ve just bought homes?”

Brunswick’s Kubera said the company had tried different ways to slow production while keeping plants open. This summer, it idled workers in Arlington for a month, starting on July 28, because of the sales drop.

“We will actively work to help them,” he said.

Workers were told the company will try to keep them employed for another 60 days, but that the plant may shut down before then.

The Arlington factory, which used to make the Bayliner line of boats, was retooled to make 34- to 58-foot motor yachts under the Meridian brand since 2002. Brunswick is the world’s largest maker of pleasure boats and the owner of a range of brands, including Meridian, Bayliner and Boston Whaler.

Brunswick purchased Olympic Boat Centers, a major boat distributor in the Pacific Northwest, for $2 million last month. The company, another victim of the dramatic cutback in boat sales, declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this summer.

News of the cutbacks sent Brunswick’s stock down 18.8 percent to a closing price Thursday of $8.12 a share, a 15-year low.

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