In May 2020, BRP announced it would end production of its Evinrude outboard engines. It was a decision that eliminated hundreds of jobs in Sturtevant and meant the end of an iconic Wisconsin brand. But less than two years later, the company’s Sturtevant plant is ramping up again with production of a new BRP product, the Sea-Doo Switch. It is a pontoon boat with the engine of a personal watercraft. Demand has been strong, and the company is accelerating hiring plans that called for 175 new employees in late 2021 and early 2022, on top of the 315 people already working in Sturtevant. Karim Donnez, senior vice president – marine at BRP, spoke with BizTimes Media associate editor Arthur Thomas about why the Sturtevant plant was picked for the Switch, how the company invested in the facility, and hiring in a tight labor market.
Picking Sturtevant for investment
“You wouldn’t recognize the plant today. It’s a complete revamping. Essentially, we took everything to the ground, and we just restarted from scratch. It’s a beautiful factory, state-of-the-art …”
“We do own the place, so for us ... it’s an investment, it’s an asset we have in hand right now. … What we really like about Sturtevant being in the Racine area, it’s in the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor, so we can tap into a pool of resources of up to 12 million people. For us, in terms of just being able to attract talent ... it’s a very attractive place to be. ... The product itself, we expect the Midwest to be a big pool of customers, so in terms of freight, in terms of logistics, transportation, (it) makes a lot of sense for us to be in the middle of the market.”
Re-hiring Evinrude employees
“For the first shift, a significant part of the employees … were employees that decided to come back and work with us. We’re super happy with that. That’s probably actually the best news. When we did discontinue Evinrude, we had to let go of hundreds of employees. That was heartbreaking for all of us, so being able to rehire some of them was really, really nice …”
Dealing with a tight labor market
“… The market itself is very competitive right now, so to be able to attract, you need to be a better employer, so we need to treat our employees as customers and make sure that we have the best value proposition we can. It’s not only in salary – it is, obviously, but it’s not only in salary – it is working conditions, it is in relationship with management, it is in making sure people see the value of what they’re doing, the purpose of their work.”