Kohler Co. says moving engine work to Mississippi a ‘business decision’

Company not seeking WEDC incentives

Kohler Engines

Kohler Co. plans to relocate engine production from Wisconsin to Hattiesburg, Mississippi to provide “a simplified customer experience,” the company said in a statement.

Around 325 positions, including 280 represented by UAW Local 833, will be impacted by the decision, the company said.

Kohler described the move as “a business decision” and said it is not seeking incentives from the state of Wisconsin.

The Associated Press reported the company is eligible for $18.5 million in tax breaks and subsidies in Mississippi, plus a $1.25 million refund as part of the settlement of a property tax lawsuit.

Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. spokesman Kelly Lietz said the state and its local partners were aware the company was considering the consolidation of engine manufacturing in Hattiesburg.

“We conveyed our interest in helping the company maintain and grow its Wisconsin operations,” Lietz said in an email. “We welcome the news that Kohler’s plans include a commitment to identifying new opportunities for existing employees within the company.”

Kohler said it reached an agreement with the UAW Local 833 in September of last year to consolidate the operations. The agreement called for the company to make alternative jobs available to affected employees.

“This consolidation will create a simplified customer experience and is not about reducing headcount or downsizing the business,” the company statement said. “We remain fully committed to our headquarters in Wisconsin, where we are continuing to invest in our facilities and actively recruiting for a wide range of roles.”

The company previously made engines primarily for ride-on lawn mowers in Hattiesburg. Kohler will now lease a 300,000-square-foot industrial building to bring production of commercial gasoline engines used in the lawn and garden and construction markets to the area.

The company plans to add 250 jobs in Mississippi with an average wage of $45,000 per year, according to the AP. The average annual wage in Forest County, Mississippi was $43,143 in 2017, compared to $57,970 in Sheboygan County.

However, the average weekly wage for production workers in the two states was much closer last year at $857 in Wisconsin and $845 in Mississippi.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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