September 17, 2014

AuGres equipment supplier lays off employees in effort stay open

Plant manager says company is not closing down

By Tim Barnum|Staff writer
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AuGRES — It seems the economic catastrophe strangling the country isn’t discriminating against any business anywhere, even in cities as small as AuGres, as CMI Equipment and Engineering, Inc. conducted a round of employee layoffs on Friday, Feb. 27.

“We’re just downsizing due to the economy. … Definitely not closing. … We’re taking these measures to prevent that,” said CMI Plant Manager Brandon Schnettler, adding the layoffs are currently considered, and hoped, to be temporary and may have spurred rumors in the AuGres community about the company, which supplies assembly equipment to plants, shutting its doors. “Our plan is to survive the economic downturn until the economy recovers. … We’re still soliciting new sales.”

Schnettler says he didn’t want to go into details about the numbers of employees laid off last week, but did say this wasn’t the company’s first round of layoffs, as the process of downsizing in employment began before Christmas. In the Dec. 24 edition of “The Arenac County Independent,” under the headline “Local suppliers caught in a bind,” which highlighted the struggles of local businesses dependent on the auto industry, Schnettler said CMI was employing about half of its typical workforce and had approximately 30 employees at that time.

He says since much of the company’s business comes from the auto industry,

which has been ailing for some time, the lack of new factories is creating a hindrance for CMI.

“We build the equipment that makes that equipment (in auto plants),” Schnettler said. “With nobody building plants right now and it being slow, that hurts us.”

But the plant manager says CMI has attempted to look beyond its usual clients to continue to operate.

“We deal with anyone and everyone. It doesn’t even have to be auto industry related,” Schnettler said. “We’re trying to solicit work in alternative energy.”

According to Schnettler, Next Energy, a group in Detroit that was created by the government to help suppliers find work in the field of alternative energy, has supplied CMI with some leads that could possibly provide it with additional business.

AuGres Mayor Lavern Dittenber says when an employer like CMI takes a hit, it affects the whole city.

“They’ve provided jobs to us for a number of years,” he said. “Hopefully within a couple of months they’ll get started on some new projects.

“That many people without jobs, of course, means that many people not buying products.”

JR Stolt, president of the AuGres Area Chamber of Commerce, which CMI is a member of, and owner of Town and Country Restaurant, says he has already seen the affect of the layoffs.

“They (CMI employees) would come in here (Town and Country) with their paychecks and eat dinner and they’re not doing it anymore,” Stolt said. “They carry a lot of business in this town.

“They’re down to about a third of their workforce.”

Dittenber says CMI’s issues are the norm in AuGres right now.

“I feel the businesses we do have in AuGres are holding on with their fingernails. … Businesses are having problems right now. All of them are. I don’t know a business here that’s not struggling,” he said, adding that recently, a BP gas station in the city that also provided bait and party supplies closed down, unfortunately meaning businesses outside of the city will be sought out to provide those items rather than one in the city.

“That’s gone now,” Dittenber said, adding that could lead to less money being spent in the city during the summer, when AuGres’ proximity to the Saginaw Bay means an economic boost from tourism. “I think the smaller businesses closing down here is comparable to a larger factory shutting down in Detroit or Saginaw or Flint, proportionately.”

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