MANATEE -- Roughly 126 Manatee County jobs were saved Sunday when it was officially announced the U.S. Postal Service Distribution Center in Tallevast will remain open.
It had been scheduled to close this month.
Manatee County Commissioner Robin DiSabatino was jubilant and credited steadfast lobbying from Sarasota Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan's office, the Washington-based lobbyists from Twenty-First Century Group and her fellow commissioners with not ceding the jobs that had appeared to be lost.
"I have been a happy girl," DiSabatino said. "I just received an email today from Charlie Hunsicker. He's been working with Twenty-First Century lobbyists in Washington on this a year or two."
Hunsicker, director of the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department, said he's known for a couple weeks the jobs had possibly been pulled back from the brink but he didn't want to announce they'd been saved until it was set in stone.
"As changeable as federal policy goes, we didn't feel like announcing it only to be reversed," Hunsicker said. "Now it's set. It's in the Federal Register."
"We wanted to make sure no one reneged," DiSabatino said simply.
The jobs were supposed to be moved to a Fort Myers facility this month before the 11th-hour reprieve. Jocelyn Hong of the Twenty-First Century Group emailed the good news to Hunsicker with happy emphasis.
Hong began her email with this salutation: "Hi Charlie: A BIG WIN!!"
She closed with this note: "Congratulations on saving 126 jobs!"
Hong said she had confirmation from Lambros Kapoulas of the U.S. Postal Service there will be no further consolidations of postal operations at this time.
The site could come under pressure again in the future, Hunsicker said. The federal government will give 90 days notice if the site once again is considered for closure.
Hunsicker and DiSabatino said the Manatee County lobbying contingent approached federal decision-makers with sound financial reasoning, which changed their minds.
"It made no sense to close this facility," DiSabatino said.
The Postal Service had said it will save $8 million by consolidating the Tallevast site with Fort Myers. Hunsicker said the Postal Service was swayed by in-depth number-crunching indicating moving the jobs to Fort Myers would not save the money initially projected and the southern Florida site was more vulnerable to hurricanes than the Tallevast facility.
"With the steady hand and attention from the Board of County Commissioners, and hard work from the 21st-Century Group and especially congressman Buchanan, I believe we worked together to raise enough questions to effectively challenge the wisdom of the move to close the Tallevast mail-processing center," Hunsicker said in an email release. "I wanted to wait just a few weeks before bringing this good news to you in the event that there was yet another last-minute change. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to work this issue to a satisfactory resolution."
Two years ago, the Tallevast operation looked irretrievable. But Hunsicker said the Manatee County contingent remained determined.
"I thought it could be done," he said. "When you're given a chance to save important jobs in a community there's no reason why you should ever give up. Like a good heavyweight boxer we just kept coming until the bell rings."
Staff writer Sara Kennedy contributed to this story.
Terry O'Connor, Night Metro Editor, can be reached at 941-745-7040 or firstname.lastname@example.org.