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Manitowoc Crane lays off 80 workers

Paul Snyder
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The soft construction market is making business hard for Manitowoc Co. Inc.

The company’s Manitowoc Crane division on Wednesday laid off 80 employees from the Manitowoc crane production operation. The Manitowoc division still has more than 800 employees.

Dennis Rooney, the company’s vice president of human relations for the American region, said Wednesday’s cutbacks were the latest in a progression of layoffs that included job losses at Manitowoc’s Port Washington and Shady Grove, Pa., crane production operations.

“We continue to see cancellations of our product, and this is an extension of what we’ve seen at other sites already,” Rooney said. “The market is really soft right now.”

For manufacturing companies such as Manitowoc, the market likely will not turn around soon, said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America.

“The companies that provide mining and construction equipment may be the furthest from recovery,” he said. “Every aspect of nonresidential construction is in decline, lenders are still unwilling to put money into projects, and state- and local-funded projects are seeing a big turndown because revenues are falling.”

Potentially making matters worse, Manitowoc’s international business, which includes a crane operation in Lyon, France, could soon mirror the company’s struggles in America. Simonson said many business economists regard the U.S. as closer to economic recovery than Europe. That means more pain lies ahead for American manufacturers doing business abroad, he said.

“A year and a half ago, there was a lot of talk in Europe about decoupling and not following the path of the U.S.,” Simonson said. “But there’s been less adjustment. Companies have not adjusted cost structures by laying off employees, so a lot of European companies will probably be not as ready to invest in new projects as American companies.”

Rooney declined to speculate on European business trends or Manitowoc’s outlook abroad.

In Wisconsin, Manitowoc County Executive Bob Ziegelbauer said he is “absolutely worried” by Wednesday’s layoffs.

“The Manitowoc Co. is the single most economic enterprise in every way for this region in terms of employment, prosperity and the value the company brings,” he said. “It’s hard to overestimate what it means.”

Manitowoc County’s unemployment rate has been at about 11 percent for the last three months, Ziegelbauer said, and the city’s rate is at 13.5 percent.

“We feel the pain of every job lost,” he said.

Rooney said there are no plans for additional layoffs, and company leaders are trying to adjust business operations to properly deal with the sputtering economy. In Pennsylvania, he said, that includes furloughs, during which workers take extended time off so the company can counter business droughts and avoid layoffs.

“I don’t predict that we’ll be doing that in Wisconsin, though,” Rooney said.

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