Last week’s announcement of Fargo Assembly’s impending closure churned up a storm of reactions in the greater David City area, but with the dust now settling, state officials with the Nebraska Department of Economic Development are hopeful that a positive outcome is possible.
“There is a real difference with every situation, but you know, I am pretty optimistic,” said Dan Curran, interim director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development (NDED). “I’m an optimistic person to begin with, but anytime you have the ability to sell (about) 200 people and an available building, I think that you’ve got a good lead to make a phone call, to make phone calls and to get to the right people and get into the people maybe looking to expand. This may be the right kind of a thing to pull the trigger on for someone that wants an expansion project.”
Fargo Assembly, which makes electrical wiring assemblies, notified the Nebraska Department of Labor its plans to fully close shop and let go more than 180 employees by Nov. 29, as previously reported.
According to the letter to the Labor Department, employees were informed of the plant closing on July 15 and 16. The letter states that termination dates will vary but that all employees will receive at least 60 days notice before being laid off.
In the days following the announcement, Butler County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kelcie Keeling was vocal about the importance of getting the ball rolling in terms of pitching the site and its workers to prospective businesses. Curran said that meetings have already taken place with Keeling and a handful of other local and state officials regarding what the best plan of attack is moving forward to make sure the right sale happens and how to retain the local workforce and tax base.
“Inside of a community you have to look at the tax base with the company, and if they have to leave to find work – the people that are living there – in another community, it really hurts your tax base,” Curran said. “And right now there is a lot of pressure to get labor – there’s a lot of open jobs in Nebraska. And I think that the people are going to find work quick enough, but our goal in this thing is to help the community, find a company that can go in there before the workforce disperses and they find jobs in other communities or other places.”
Fargo Assembly, which was bought in 2017 by Electrical Components International, has had a facility in David City since 1981. Leading up to the David City announcement, three other Fargo Assembly plants closed in North Dakota in summer 2018, and the company also shut down its Atchison, Kansas, facility in June.
Curran said that there are procedures the Department of Economic Development implements in an effort to help mid-size to large state employers when it comes across its desk that struggles are happening. Smaller private and family-owned businesses with few employees have a fairly high closure rate and don’t generally make it onto the department’s radar. However, if a certain number of employees will be affected – along with a community as a whole – it’s standard procedure for the NDED to become involved.
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Deb Eggleston, NDED business development consultant; Brad Pierce, in charge of business development and recruitment; and Rick Nelsen, senior economic development consultant with the Nebraska Public Power District, have all been working toward coming up with local solutions in the wake of the closure announcement.
“My role is really to work with the community, businesses and leadership just trying to be that liaison that helps pull everything together,” Eggleston said. “We have met with the (city’s) leadership and brought in a business recruiter, and Rick Nelsen with NPPD is also helping.
“… We talked about what other communities have done to market business and also talked about the talent encased within that building (Fargo).”
Eggleston said that she is working with Fargo officials, too, assisting with finding the right buyer for their property. She noted that the NDED fairly recently worked with a Nebraska town fairly similar in terms of overall demographics that was able to weather a similar storm and come out on the other side in OK shape.
“There is a lot going for that community, and when you have a workforce to market, we feel like that is a great marketing tool for David City,” she said. “So we are hoping that we can help them retain their workforce there.”
Eggleston added that a major business closure in small-town Nebraska can have an incredibly adverse effect. This is why the department is working diligently with David City officials to hopefully steer the ship in the right direction.
“People live in a community because they love their community,” Eggleston said. “And so you want to be able to provide an opportunity for them to enjoy the life that they have built. So if we can help with that … it’s a benefit for everybody and a win-win for everybody. So we will stay involved and see this through … We’ve got the wheels in motion.”
Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Banner-Press. Reach him via email at email@example.com