ARLINGTON, Wash. (AP) -- The news that Meridian Yachts will shut down its Arlington boat building operation within 60 days and lay off nearly all its 830 employees left many workers in tears and worried about where they will find a new paycheck.
The company announced the closure at an all-staff meeting Thursday, saying a dramatic decline in boat sales nationwide forced the decision.
"Many people cried," said Antonio Ibarra, of Mount Vernon, who has worked at the company for seven years.
"The plant manager almost cried. He had a big speech, but he could not talk. We thought we were working for a company that was strong," Ibarra told The Herald of Everett.
Sergo Ruben-Lopez, who joined Ibarra for a beer at the Buzz Inn after work, said the shutdown was a big loss.
"The economy is not good," he said. "Even harder times are coming. Hopefully the economy will heal, but it won't be soon enough and there aren't many companies to go to look for work."
Ruben-Lopez said he supports a family of five and does not know what he will do after the layoffs come in December.
In addition to Arlington, Brunswick Corp., which owns Meridian Yachts, will shut plants in Ripestone, Minn.; Roseburg, Ore.; and Navassa, N.C. Workers at three other plants near Knoxville, Tenn., will be furloughed from Oct. 27 through the end of the year.
Officials said that nationwide, 1,400 people would lose their jobs and that the cuts would save the company $300 million by the end of 2009.
The Arlington factory, which used to make the Bayliner line of boats, was retooled and has made 34- to 58-foot motor yachts under the Meridian brand since 2002. Brunswick is the world's largest maker of pleasure boats and the owner of a range of brands, including Meridian, Bayliner and Boston Whaler.
Brunswick Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Dustan E. McCoy acknowledged Thursday that the cutbacks are painful. He said the company hopes that by reducing costs now it will be in a position to be profitable when the economy improves.
In July and August, industry sales of fiberglass boats fell 40 percent while sales of aluminum boats dropped 21 percent, the company said Thursday, adding that it expects September sales declines to be worse.
Brunswick, based in Lake Forest, Ill., purchased Olympic Boat Centers, a major boat distributor in the Pacific Northwest, for $2 million last month. That company, also suffering from the drop in boat sales, declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy this past summer.
Meridian workers also are concerned about the impact of the cutbacks on the city of Arlington.
"Arlington cannot support hundreds of unemployed workers," said Meridian worker Katie Maxwell. "I have four kids and I don't know what I'm going to do about them. What will the families do who have two people working for the company or have retirements or those who've just bought homes?"