MILWAUKEE — Harley-Davidson is standing by its plans to close a motorcycle assembly plant in Kansas City, eliminating about 800 jobs there, despite a plea by Missouri congressional leaders who reminded the iconic motorcycle maker of the millions of dollars in incentives the state gave to it over the past two decades.
In a letter sent Friday to Harley CEO Matt Levatich, Missouri's two U.S. senators along with two congressmen 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."
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 the Kansas City Star.
Harley spokesman Michael Pflughoeft said Friday the company had not yet seen the letter. But he said the decision to close the plant was based on market conditions.
“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.
He said under the circumstances, neither action by unions representing the company's workers nor its congressional delegation are in a position to be able to do much to reverse the plant decision. "If there was, we would have reached out to discuss options," Pflughoeft said.
Last month, Milwaukee-based Harley announced it was shutting 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. The transfer will create about 400 jobs in York.
The move doesn’t affect Harley’s manufacturing plant in Menomonee Falls, Wis., which builds motorcycle engines.
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, affectionately 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 workers at the Kansas City plant.
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