Four years after exiting Springfield, Regal Beloit is leaving West Plains

A 2013 file photo shows a former Springfield, Mo. location of Regal Beloit. The maker of electric motors announced Friday, Nov. 1, 2019 that it would close its West Plains, Mo. facility by May 2020. More than 200 jobs will be lost. (Photo: Nathan Papes/Springfield News-Leader)

Wisconsin-based electric motor control manufacturer Regal Beloit informed Missouri authorities Friday that it plans to shutter its West Plains facility, ending 204 jobs.

In five stages, the plant’s employees are to be let go beginning Jan. 3. A handful of employees are expected to clock out from their final shift on May 31.

David Bossemeyer, director of the West Plains Economic Development Corporation, said the closure will have significant effects.

“If you could measure it up to something, it would be like Springfield losing 2,000 jobs,” Bossemeyer said. He said community members were “very disappointed.”

“It was kind of a shock,” Bossemeyer explained. “We received no early notice, the city received no early notice at all. We didn’t know until they started calling people into the office, until they said they were closing.”

West Plains is a community of 12,250 some 100 miles southeast of Springfield. Census figures show the Howell County town’s poverty rate at 24.8 percent, with a median household income around $35,000 — figures similar to ones for the city of Springfield.

Regal Beloit has been part of the fabric of West Plains since its predecessor, Marathan Motors, set up shop in 1976, said a representative for the West Plains Public Library. The facility went under the Regal Beloit brand in 1997.

The West Plains Daily Quill reported Friday that Regal previously laid off 90 workers as part of a restructuring plan in 2016. Others in the community expressed what appeared to be long-standing worries that Regal would exit their market.

“This is so sad,” one commenter wrote on social media in response to the Quill’s story. “They had talked about this all the years I had worked there. It breaks my heart for all those losing their jobs. … Praying for all during this time.”

Another commenter wrote, “There’s no way this town can ‘absorb’ 204 jobs. Jobs that pay anything close to Regal don’t exist.”

But Bossemeyer, the local economic development official, said he believed the West Plains area could do just that and that the local economy is generally good.

“We have enough open positions throughout the county that they should be able to absorb a large portion of the loss,” he said.

Bossemeyer listed several new developments that are expected to add several hundred jobs in and around West Plains: The local hospital is underway with a $73 million expansion, while an Italy-based defense contractor, Leonardo DRS, is adding a $24 million expansion. An adult-care center, a car wash and a new Steak n Shake restaurant are also adding new jobs.

He acknowledged that employees with decades of service at Regal would find that newer jobs are “not going to be the same pay scale as they’re used to” but said local authorities are working with state and federal officials to provide retraining “at very reduced or zero costs” for displaced workers.

Bossemeyer said he expected to work with Regal to spin off its West Plains real estate. He will soon attend a conference in Chicago to get the word out that an industrial facility is available.

Why is Regal shutting down in West Plains?

In a third-quarter investor conference call held Monday, Regal executives noted the company faces “weak industrial market trends, trade tariff uncertainty, and inventory destocking headwinds” among its challenges.

Regal posted revenue of $772.3 million in the period, down from the same time last year, with $49.7 million in net income, the Associated Press reported. Shares in the company have risen 9 percent since Jan. 2019.

Louis Pinkham, CEO, told investors about ways the company is reducing costs, according to a transcript of the conference call posted by Motley Fool.

“As we further leverage our new decentralized organization, we continue to find and drive more cost-out opportunities around footprint synergies and product rationalization and consolidation,” Pinkham said.

Robert Cherry, vice president of business development and investor relations, emailed the News-Leader a statement about the closure Tuesday morning.

The statement said in part, “Given the current operating realities of the competitive global market, the business has decided to close its West Plains, Missouri facility.”

Jobs will move “to other facilities within the business to increase synergies with our parts and assembly plants,” Cherry said. “We are committed to working closely with our associates throughout this process to minimize disruption or personal impact and to ensure a successful transition for our customers.”

Cherry did not respond to questions as to specific locations where jobs might move or whether the company would pay any retraining costs for employees losing their jobs.

In February of 2015, Regal exited Springfield, a move that cost 330 jobs. At that time, the News-Leader reported that the company was moving its Springfield operations to McAllen, Texas, and Reynosa, Mexico.