WAYNE, Neb. — In another blow to a town still recovering from a devastating tornado, Pacific Coast Feather Co. said Thursday it would move its production out of state. The Seattle-based company's mattress pad manufacturing facility was one of several businesses in the community that was damaged or destroyed by the Oct. 4 twister.
“Sadly, the second part of the tragedy struck today,” Wayne Mayor Ken Chamberlain said. “The first was the tornado itself.”
About 80 of the 137 employees who had been working at the facility at the time of the tornado gathered Thursday in the basement of Calvary Bible Church in Wayne to receive their Christmas bonuses and to hear a plant status update. There, Pacific Coast Feather Co. President and CEO Joe Crawford told the workforce that the business would move its operation to a facility in Gastonia, N.C.
“Please understand this was an incredibly hard decision,” Crawford told the employees, many of whom shed tears at the news.
Crawford said the company had evaluated rebuilding on the storm-ravaged location, while also searching for a suitable building located in or near Wayne that would allow the business to quickly re-establish its mattress pad production.
The company entered into the process with a heavy bias toward rebuilding in Wayne, given its dedicated, skilled and experienced workforce.
“Our colleagues in Wayne are hard-working, loyal employees who have been caught up in a tragedy not of their making,” Crawford said. “We wish we could have found a way to stay in or near Wayne, but the needs of the business leave us no choice but to move immediately back into production to support our customers.”
While the company's customers had been understanding and cooperative, Crawford said, they expressed clear expectations about when Pacific Coast Feather must begin shipping mattress pads again to have a chance of retaining the business into next season.
To meet those expectations, the company must have a facility in place by February and begin producing mattress pads again by March, Crawford said.
The facility in Gastonia, about 20 miles west of Charlotte, N.C., has some existing mattress pad equipment that meets the company's mattress pad manufacturing needs.
Pacific Coast Feather offered help with moving expenses if any of its Nebraska-based employees hired before April 1, 2013, wanted to move with the company. For those who stay in Wayne, the company will continue paying full salaries through the end of the year and all medical insurance premiums for employees and family members through March 31.
Crawford also announced the establishment of a $200,000 scholarship fund to assist students with tuition and book expenses at Wayne State College, with preferential consideration to children or grandchildren of Pacific Coast Feather employees.
Wes Blecke, executive director of Wayne Area Economic Development, said his organization helped the company search for facilities as far away as Norfolk, Columbus, Fremont and South Sioux City, but nothing large enough was readily available.
Blecke said the land on which Pacific Coast Feather Co. sat now holds an opportunity for another employer, but the first order of business is helping those who are now without jobs find a way to make a living.
“We'll do in our office as much as we can to help,” he said. “We've got to stay positive.”