Both Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and Briggs & Stratton Corporation CEO Todd Teske came to the company’s Statesboro plant Thursday for a celebration of the factory’s ongoing expansion to build Vanguard V-Twin engines.
Briggs & Stratton Corporation, headquartered in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, announced in October that it would bring production of these two-cylinder engines home to its plants here and in Auburn, Alabama. Previously, these engines were assembled in Japan in a joint venture with Daihatsu. It means the addition of more than 100 jobs at the Statesboro plant, which in its 23 previous years of existence only made single-cylinder engines.
Deal, limited to two consecutive four-year terms, will leave office in January. He described his remarks at the assembly on the Briggs factory floor as a short, modern history lesson, beginning when he took office as governor in January 2011 “in the depths of the Great Recession.”
“The bottom line of my history lesson is this: There was not too long ago a time in which the skeptics and the cynics were saying, the United States is not going to be a nation that will engage in manufacturing again. All of those jobs are going offshore; they’re going to other countries for a variety of reasons that they would give,” Deal said.
“Folks, this is an example of a company that is deciding to bring jobs back from overseas,” he concluded.
Teske, who is Briggs & Stratton’s chairman and president as well as CEO, said the company made some time-consuming decisions involving careful analysis before announcing that Vanguard production would be moved to the United States.
“What wasn’t a very hard decision was coming here to Statesboro,” Teske said. “When we decided we wanted to be in the U.S., the Statesboro plant here was one of the things where you went, ‘Wow! This is an absolutely no-brainer decision.’”
The one-cylinder engines the plant has traditionally are used in lawnmowers and similar machines for the residential market. For the past seven or eight years Briggs & Stratton has focused on manufacturing engines for both residential and commercial-market outdoor machines, and Vanguard engines are an important part of the corporate strategy, Teske said.
“We don’t have a very big market share in commercial, but we’re going to have one because of this great team that we have here,” he said Thursday.
21 million built
The Statesboro plant is Briggs & Stratton’s largest in the number of engines produced. Since the plant opened in August 1995, it has manufactured more than 21 million engines, peaking at 6,200 engines a day in record years, said Dave DeBaets, the corporation’s vice president for global engine operations.
“When we start production on our new V-Twin engine in November of 2018 on the assembly line that you see off to my right, this will be a true test of our ability to deliver an engine to a market that expects and demands perfection,” he said. “This team standing around you knows how to work together and embrace new challenges.”
While representatives of organizations such as the Development Authority of Bulloch County, the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce, Ogeechee Technical College and Georgia Southern University sat in rows of chairs, employees of the Briggs & Stratton plant gathered around them, most standing. State Rep. Jan Tankersley of Brooklet introduced the governor, and Bulloch County commissioners Chairman Roy Thompson gave the greeting on behalf of the county.
Jobs to be added
The addition of 100-plus employees will boost the plant’s year-round work force to about 450 people, Plant Manager James Suchovsky said earlier this year.
About 30 of the new jobs will be technician positions, said Human Resources Manager Amanda See, of the Statesboro plant. Another 30 will be “Vanguard operators” who need to have some knowledge of engines, she said.
“We’ve already begun recruiting for these technician positions, and then on July 17 we’ll be having a hiring event hosted by our Department of Labor,” she said.
That’s the Georgia Department of Labor, which will host the event at Ogeechee Tech.
“The skills gap is real,” was another of Teske’s comments, as he noted the use of robotics and other automation at the plant. He added that this makes the plant’s relationships with the technical college and university important to its success.
Officials of Briggs & Stratton, the state’s Quick Start program and Ogeechee Tech signed an agreement in February for Quick Start to provide pre-employment and job-specific skills training to the new hires.
In his “history lesson,” Deal noted several ways that the state during his administration sought to accommodate industry and promote job growth. One of the first steps was eliminating sales tax from the cost of energy used in manufacturing, he said.
Next, the state government asked industries if they had jobs that they couldn’t find enough people in Georgia to fill, and the answer came back yes, Deal said.
Starting with four job categories, Georgia has expanded its HOPE Career Grant program to 17 skillsets, providing tuition-free education to anyone who attains a certificate or diploma in one of these areas from one of the state’s technical colleges.
Georgia’s dual-enrollment program, providing tuition-free university, college and technical college courses to high school juniors and seniors, and work-place learning programs “to give young people hands-on opportunities to see what the job place is like,” were among other efforts he credited.
High school to job
Austin Seeley, 18, who graduated from Statesboro High School the next day, also spoke during Briggs & Stratton’s event. Through the school’s work-place learning program and the company’s BASCO Recruit effort, he worked 16 hours a week through his senior year, progressing from a $12 hourly wage to about $15.60 while also taking classes at Ogeechee Tech, East Georgia State College and Statesboro High. He will work full-time at Briggs beginning this summer.