While it is hard to imagine a silver lining to last week’s announcement that Palmer Johnson Yachts is closing its Sturgeon Bay facilities and letting 105 workers go, there is considering they are entering a robust economy.
“They are going to have job offers up the wazoo,” said James Golembeski, executive director of the Bay Area Workforce Development Board. “Unlike 2008 when we were getting into a recession and we weren’t getting any jobs, these workers are walking into an environment in which there are just a lot of opportunities for them and many really good opportunities.”
He added that it was not at all surprising to learn about the closing.
“This is the pattern where you have a local company – I believe Palmer Johnson was first sold to a Texas company back in 1961 [actually, it was bought at the time by Pat Haggerty, founder of Texas Instruments], and then Mr. [Timur] Mohamed bought the company [in 2003]. He’s got properties and assets all over the globe and he’s doing what’s smart for him, which is to consolidate manufacturing, apparently in the Netherlands, and he’s in a very, very niche industry. Not everyone can afford a $20 million yacht. So this pattern where it goes from local ownership to an absentee ownership to even a foreign ownership, not a surprise. The advantages, again, the workers are coming out into a very robust economy and their skills are going to be very much in demand, and we’ll be helping to connect them with all of that through our job center up there.”
Golembeski’s organization oversees job centers in the 11-county region of northeast Wisconsin, including the job center at We Are HOPE, Inc., in Sturgeon Bay. Golembeski said he has been working with We Are HOPE CEO Sandy Duckett in organizing a job fair for the Palmer Johnson employees that will take place on Sept. 16.
“Sandy has 29 companies coming in already, and I’m getting more,” Golembeski said. “I got five contacts from other employers who are interested in trying to get at these workers.”
Asked where the interested employers are located, Golembeski said most are regional.
“Obviously, Bay Shipbuilding has been leaching off people from Palmer Johnson for some time now,” he said. “Bay Ship is obviously going to be interested in speaking to many of these workers [but the company had no comment when contacted by the Pulse]. I’ve had several companies from Green Bay. The construction industry has also contacted me. They are looking for plumbers and electricians. We actually had one contact from Annapolis, Maryland, which is a large shipbuilding community as well. It’s just a robust hiring atmosphere right now. We’re fielding calls every day here, asking how do we get to these people. And that’s the reality for the next decade or more, quite frankly, unless the Bernie Madoffs of the world really screw up the economy again.”
Sandy Duckett said a couple of Palmer Johnson workers have already stopped in to check out their options, but she and her team will lay out all those options in a meeting with the soon-to-be-displaced workers.
“On Friday we are scheduled to meet with all 105 workers at the plant to talk about the programs available to them,” Duckett said.
She added that getting responses from 29 employers who want to meet with the Palmer Johnson workers is an amazing response.
“This is a blow to our region,” Duckett said. “They’ve been a great employer in this region and they’re well known around the world, so when you lose a company like that, it certainly has an impact on the community, but we will do whatever we can to make this transition as easy as possible, and hope we can align those workers with many of those employers who are seeking skilled workers. We’ve had a lot of companies reach out to us, which is wonderful. That’s the goal, to ensure everybody gets to a place where they have some stability again.”
Palmer Johnson has also hired the services of the H.S. Group of Green Bay, where Pete Bilski is director of human resource consulting/development. Bilski’s background is in human resources with shipbuilding companies such as Burger Boat Co. in Manitowoc and Marinette Marine. He could not be reached in time for this story.
“From a worker point of view, this kind of change is always difficult, but they are walking out into a world where employers are looking for them, so it’s just a matter of trying to match the workers skills and whatever kind of training we are able to provide to get them into another position. They are going to be very popular men and women,” Golembeski said.