ROBERT SIEGEL, host,
The latest major company to announce job cuts is an iconic one. Harley-Davidson says it will close plants and cut about 1,100 jobs over the next two years. Today's announcement is expected to hit hardest in the motorcycle company's home city of Milwaukee. And from Milwaukee, Chuck Quirmbach of Wisconsin Public Radio, sent us this story.
CHUCK QUIRMBACH: During its 106 years in business, Harley-Davidson has survived the Great Depression, several recessions and stiff foreign competition. Still, the firm has enjoyed strong sales for most of the last 25 years with large and dedicated groups, happy to ride their bikes and wear their Harley colors. But domestic sales of Harley's have been sliding over the last year or so. At the same time, the foreign market has fallen off. Harley spokesman Bob Klein says while the company still posted a profit of $654 million last year, job cuts are necessary.
Mr. BOB KLEIN (Spokesman, Harley-Davidson): We are making the moves that we announced today to deal with the current economy and what we see for the year ahead, as well as to right-size the business going forward.
QUIRMBACH: Harley plans to cut production by 13 percent this year. To do that, it'll combine two engine plants, close a Wisconsin parts distribution center, and cut some jobs in Pennsylvania. Harley workers contacted for the story say they were advised not to talk to the media today. But dealers and customers did talk about the dent in Harley's carefree image.
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QUIRMBACH: The house of Harley-Davidson in suburban Milwaukee services and sells hundreds of motorcycles a year, including the Street Glide model. Goran Zadrima is the sales manager here, and says the slide in sales during this recession is worrisome.
Mr. GORAN ZADRIMA (Sales Manager, Milwaukee House of Harley-Davidson): Everybody at this point, everywhere freaking out, everything is slow. But I think also has lot to do with how you set up your attitude towards that. If we go after every customer and do the right thing and - I think we'll be fine.
QUIRMBACH: But because Harley finances more than half of all bikes it sells, some of the financial pain comes from customers not paying their loans. With the average cost of a bike at about $15,000, monthly loans can pinch the family budget. Even so, this dealership plans to increase it sales force in the spring, hoping the upper-middle-class customers it depends on will keep buying. As she left the store this morning, Rayland Foitte(ph) clutched her bag of Harley jewelry and said, she's not giving up on Harley- Davidson.
Ms. RAYLAND FOITTE (Customer, Harley-Davidson): Because I've been riding for 10 years and like the culture, like the people that we've - meet, that we meet so I want to help Harley keep their jobs.
QUIRMBACH: The expected loss of well-paying manufacturing jobs does mean more financial pain for the Milwaukee area, which still has an unemployment rate below the national average. Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett says the Harley layoffs will hurt but that the local economy is resilient.
Mayor TOM BARRETT (Milwaukee): This is a blow. I'm not going to disguise this and say it's not a blow. But I believe that because we have so many different sectors in this economy, that we will not be hit as hard as other parts of this country.
QUIRMBACH: But Mayor Barrett says he isn't sure just how quickly laid-off motorcycle workers will be able to switch to building the very roads and bridges that those still riding Harley-Davidsons will need. For NPR News, I'm Chuck Quirmbach in Milwaukee.
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