BRADENTON -- Workers targeted in the area's largest single round of layoffs in more than a decade have begun this month to hit the unemployment rolls.
The first wave of job cuts in what will eventually grow to 325 are now underway at Pierce Manufacturing in Bradenton, an Oshkosh subsidiary that earlier this year announced plans to discontinue its ambulance line just 18 months after the operation was moved to Florida.
The maker of emergency response vehicles has let go some of its contracted workers in a process that will continue through early next year with many full-time laborers when all of the remaining ambulance orders have been met. The company plans to keep its fire truck business operating in Bradenton.
"It's going to be a gradually type of layoff," said John Daggett, vice president of communications for Oshkosh. "It will be fluid. It all depends on the back orders in the system."
Many contracted employees who had been working at the Pierce facility have been let go. Other full-time workers, already given warning of a pick slip, have quit voluntarily to get a head start on their job hunt.
Most of the 240 full-time Pierce workers still awaiting their jobless fate will gradually begin to fall from company payrolls from Jan. 10 through June 2013.
Pierce has yet to file a required Warn notice with the state.
"The first areas are more contractor-related," Daggett said Tuesday. "We will have a better visibility (of the cuts) next year."
Pierce's Medtec ambulance segment was relocated from Indiana and Michigan last summer in a consolidation with the existing fire truck manufacturing plant in Bradenton.
But shrinking municipal budgets have made the line unprofitable, and despite efforts to trim costs, sales continued to sputter.
Management met with all
610 employees at the 38th Avenue East plant earlier this summer to announce its exit of the ambulance business -- and the associated layoffs.
The company was given $1.44 million in state and local government incentives for the move, which was completed last summer. Oshkosh also invested about $5 million in facility enhancements and other related expenses, records show.
The 325 employees identified for layoffs will be offered bonuses if they stay until pending orders are met. Severance packages also will be presented to the workers, Daggett said.
Area officials also have already crafted a relief plan.
Representatives from Suncoast Workforce, in collaborating with the Manatee Economic Development Corp., met with the human resources department at Pierce last week to vet options for the displaced workers.
Suncoast, the local jobs agency, has scheduled a series of workshops through December at the plant to help workers with their resume writing and interviewing skills.
The organization's mobile career center also will be on hand from Dec. 11-13, with a hiring event lined up for Jan. 8, when Pierce workers can met with other area manufacturers that now have openings.
Suncoast spokeswoman Sally Hill could not release the name of any of the companies that will be participating.
"We're hoping we can get some companies lined up that will pick up a lot of these folks," Hill said. "This primarily will be customized for Pierce."
Oshkosh released filings with the SEC that identified several operating concerns going forward, most notably downsized federal defense budgets and lower municipal spending.
The government cuts have significantly impacted the company's defense segment and have become a major factor in the decision to exit the ambulance business, the document says.
Industry stakeholders believe the cuts, although severe, won't be insurmountable given the other area employers between Manatee and Sarasota that plan to soon expand, like Air Products in Palmetto.
"It's unfortunate to loss 300 manufacturing jobs, but some of the folks from Pierce, I'm quite sure, currently have the skills they need for new employment," said Peter Straw, executive director of the Sarasota Manatee Manufacturers Association. "I think we'll see some absorption."
Josh Salman, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @JoshSalman