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Layoffs at Stoughton Trailers
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BRODHEAD - Market conditions are forcing Stoughton Trailers to temporarily lay off 184 workers at its Brodhead plant and look for a tenant for its closed Evansville plant, a company executive said.

Rumors swirling that the company is negotiating to move or close are not true, said Patrice Gillespie, vice president of human resources.

"We're not (for sale). We're locally owned and operated, and the Wahlin family will keep it that way," she said.

The company gave the state-required, 60-day layoff notice for its Brodhead plant last week and informed workers Friday, she said.

The notice states it will affect all 184 employees at the Brodhead plant, 302 23rd St., but Gillespie said some workers will remain working and others will be transferred to the Stoughton plant.

The layoff is planned to be only temporary, she stressed.

The company also will use the time to cross-train employees and possibly refit the Brodhead plant to make it more adaptable for customized projects, she said.

The layoffs are directly tied to the tough economic times, she said, because the plant makes truck trailers. With high fuel prices, many truck drivers are fixing their old trailers instead of buying new, she said.

Limited layoffs also are planned at the Stoughton plant, she said.

In Evansville, the building where more than 400 people used to make chassis and containers is on the market to lease.

"We could open the business tomorrow," Gillespie said. "Everything's still there."

The Evansville plant has been shut down for more than a year because the company couldn't compete with overseas competition, she said. Some of those employees were laid off while most were transferred to other plants, she said.

"As (President) Ken Wahlin likes to say, the perfect lease would be two years - to help pay for some of the cost of utilities'then in two years reexamine the business and open again," she said.

But, Gillespie admitted, the company would consider selling the building for the right price.

"That's not our intent," she said.

Evansville City Administrator Dan Wietecha said he has been talking with company officials about the building and plans to meet with a listing agent and tour the plant today.

He said it's too early to say what the city's role might be in helping the company find a new occupant for the building.

He said he's still optimistic the plant can reopen in a couple years.

But, "if three years from now they decided the economy is not changing for truck chassis, hopefully, we've been able to work with them to get a good tenant in there, so maybe the tenant becomes permanent," he said.

Stoughton Trailers is the fourth-largest truck trailer manufacturing company in the United States, Gillespie said.

"This is what the entire business is seeing," she said. "We're not unique. We're just reacting to the business."