Harley-Davidson Inc. said it is standing by its plans to close a motorcycle assembly plant in Kansas City, ending about 800 jobs there, despite a plea by Missouri congressional leaders who reminded Harley of the millions of dollars in incentives the state has provided the company over the last two decades.
In a letter sent Friday to Harley CEO Matt Levatich, Missouri Sens. Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill and Reps. Sam Graves and Emanuel Cleaver II noted that Kansas City beat out 30 other cities across the country when Harley was looking to build an assembly plant in 1996.
“It came with a considerable incentive package from the city, Platte County, and the state of Missouri,” the bipartisan group of lawmakers said in the letter.
“Over that time, the company has become an important part of the community, and has grown to be one of the largest manufacturers in the Kansas City region,” the letter said.
State and local leaders offered a $6.4 million incentive package to lure Harley to Kansas City initially and those subsidies grew by tens of millions of dollars over time, according to a January story in the Kansas City Star.
Harley spokesman Michael Pflughoeft said Friday that the company had not yet seen the letter. But he said the decision to close was based on market conditions and that there was nothing that could have been done to prevent it.
“Ultimately, this initiative is about reducing excess (plant) capacity. Our Kansas City workforce has done a tremendous job producing quality motorcycles and serving our customers. And we have always appreciated the support of our Kansas City community,” Pflughoeft said in an email to the Journal Sentinel.
“Unfortunately, there’s nothing our unions or local or congressional members could have done to relieve the pressure of excess capacity we have in the U.S. today. If there was, we would have reached out to discuss options.”
Last month, Harley announced it was shutting down the Kansas City plant, which has built some of its most popular motorcycles including the Softail line of bikes.
The world’s largest maker of heavyweight motorcycles has struggled to reverse a four-year sales slide, with growth overseas helping to offset a decline in the U.S. bike market somewhat.
Harley says it’s moving the Kansas City work to the company’s plant in York, Pa., and that will create about 400 jobs in York.
“This is more than just the shutdown of the Kansas City plant. We will be investing to expand our operations in York,” Levatich said earlier.
The move doesn’t affect Harley’s manufacturing plant in Menomonee Falls, which builds motorcycle engines.
Plans to close the Kansas City plant came as a surprise to Missouri’s congressional delegation, whose members said they learned about it through news accounts.
“We understand that the domestic and global sales environments are key drivers in business decisions like this. But we also believe Harley-Davidson’s Kansas City assembly plant and its workers produce a top-quality product that can compete with any other facility in the United States or around the world. We urge you to reconsider the decision to close the plant,” their letter said.
Harley’s Kansas City workforce includes employees who landed their jobs when the plant opened about 20 years ago.
Tim Primeaux, who has worked at the plant for 17 years, said it’s a lifelong goal for some people to build Harley-Davidson motorcycles, often called “Hogs.”
“I came from a small town where I actually slaughtered hogs (real ones). And in my job interview with Harley, I told them I wanted to build hogs. I had that American dream, to work for the great American company,” Primeaux said.
“There was a lot of pride when I left that slaughter plant and came to Kansas City,” he added.
Union officials are also applying pressure on Harley to keep the Kansas City plant open.
“I’m sick of seeing our jobs disappear or turn into part-time work. … I am employing every resource necessary to assist Kansas City and our membership,” said Robert Martinez Jr., president of the Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents the Kansas City plant workers.