Three days after showcasing the talents of its labor force and lauding its successes to more than 100 community leaders, politicians and residents, Brown-Minneapolis Tank Co. decided to lay off all its workforce and close its facilities at the Satsop Business Park.
“As the management team of BMT-NW, this is a very sad day for all of us,”a Sept. 23 letter from BMT’s board states to its customers, employees and others. “We know that everyone here has shown a great commitment to making a quality product for our customers and we appreciate the support from our vendors and partners. We are committed to dealing with everyone in a straightforward way and will update you with regular communications through the process.”
As of last week, the business had 47 employees. The letter states that a portion of the workforce would receive layoff notices right away. A second phase of layoff notices will be sent out between Oct. 15 and Oct 31 and the rest of the employees would be laid off “once the company has been wound down and assets sold.”
The company is located in the former nuclear plant’s reconfigured turbine building, which was originally designed to house steam turbine generators for the twin nuclear plants that were never finished. The company took over the facility in 2009, and after a year-and-a-half conversion process, has been manufacturing and shipping behemoth industrial steel storage tanks for various uses around the globe. The company can manufacture and ship tanks weighing up to 1 million tons out of its 360,000 square-foot plant.
In 2012, the company secured the contract to paint the large seating structures for the new Husky Stadium at the University of Washington. The company built the steel framework to hold the cement forms used to create the pontoons for the State Route 520 bridge replacement project between Seattle and the Bellevue area. On the bridge project, the company processed 800 tons of new steel and then modified another 400 pieces of existing heavy steel frames for future phases.
“They’re for water, fuel, molasses, mineral, just about anything,” Rollie Irwin, a vice president at BMT, said of the manufactured tanks during a tour of the facility on Sept. 20.
Irwin was the lead tour guide during one of the stops of Showcase Grays Harbor, hosted by Greater Grays Harbor Inc., the regional chamber of commerce, geared to highlight the county’s economic strengths and diversity. He never mentioned the pending layoffs as he was praising the work of his employees.
Alissa Shay, the manager for Satsop Business Park, said she had no idea the company was about to lay off its employees.
Tim Gibbs, CEO of Greater Grays Harbor, Inc., told The Vidette he’s been working with BMT-NW for a couple of weeks on options for the Satsop location. He said he was unaware the layoffs were coming until Monday. He labeled the timing of the facility’s closure — a few days after being a featured stop on the Showcase tour — as “unfortunate” rather than embarrassing.
“The timing is horrendous. The timing is bad,” said Gibbs. “But we continue to work with them. … I think they’re part of a much larger corporate structure that’s having difficulty. But there’s never a good time to find out that 47 jobs are facing elimination on the Harbor.”
He declined to speak specifically on efforts under way or options on the table for the company.
$5.5M invested to bring BMT here
There’s been a lot of state and county money put into getting BMT Northwest into the old turbine building.
In 2008, the county commissioners approved spending $250,000 to help refurbish the building. That was on top of $5.053 million in state grant funds. Then, in 2009, the county chipped in another $150,000 and the old Public Development Authority spent an extra $300,000 to retrofit a barge slip near the Satsop site. The slip, 60 feet wide and 300 feet long, was renovated to remove sediments and make it deeper, specifically so BMT Northwest could use it to send giant steel tanks down the river. The tanks were too wide to travel on regular roads and some are too high to make it safely under overpasses.
The company was originally located at the Port of Olympia, but was squeezed out and was looking for new locations before finding the Satsop Business Park. There was even a brief tiff between the county and the Public Development Authority over building code interpretations of the old nuclear facility, where the county commissioners had to get involved.
There were promises of dozens of more jobs to be added at the facility over the years. In 2008, company officials said they were prepared to bring in 53 “family wage” jobs from Olympia and hire an additional 39 jobs. But the company’s held pretty steady at 47 to 50 jobs for the past few years.
LEASE WENT FOR 50 YEARS
In 2008, the company signed a 15-year lease with the Satsop Business Park, which has since been inherited by the Port of Grays Harbor. The agreement allowed BMT to pay no rent in 2008 and 2009 with rent commencing at $4,000 per month in May of 2010. The rent has stayed at $4,000 per month and was set to increase to $6,000 per month next year.
There were a number of lease agreement options allowing the company to stay at the park until 2058, if it wanted
The company also had to compensate for security costs at the business park and pay an annual cost for use of the barge slip.
The company had been a success story for the Satsop Business Park. In 2011, more than 120 engineers, technicians and owners from steel tank manufacturing plants throughout the Americas attended the Steel Tank Institute/Steel Plate Fabricators Association conference and made a special trip to the BMT facility, recognizing the business as one of the largest steel fabrication plants in the country.
In its Sept. 23 letter, the BMT board notes it’s been trying to find a buyer for the company’s Northwest division and hadn’t been successful.
The letter states:
“For the last few months, BMT-NW Acquisition, LLC has been exploring various strategic options to find a buyer or merger partner to allow it to continue its operations. Unfortunately, a buyer with acceptable terms could not be found, and the Board of BMT-NW Acquisition, LLC made the difficult decision to start the wind-down of the operations in an orderly fashion.
“For existing customers with jobs that are already in progress, BMT-NW plans to continue working to complete your respective jobs. We will follow-up with you individually to discuss your schedule. It is our hope that we can continue our relationship with you as ‘business as usual.’ We will strive to continue to meet our commitments to you, as we will need you to do with us. Expect a follow-up meeting with us within a week.
“For customers with new jobs that have not been started, BMT-NW will not be able to perform your job. We will work with you to help you Íind an alternative vendor. We are sorry for this, but we believe it is far better that we are communicating this before we begin, rather than have a job end up only partially completed.
“For our vendors and customers, we understand that you will have concerns about what this wind down will mean to our ability to make payments on our open accounts. It is our intention to pay amounts due to our vendors.”