WorkOne plans events for dislocated Dixie Chopper workers
With a confirmed 107 workers affected by the closure of the Dixie Chopper plant in Fillmore, WorkOne is prepared to step in and help the dislocated workers.
As representatives of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development in both the community and the region, the WorkOne offices in Greencastle and Terre Haute are offering assistance and state benefits to the former Dixie Chopper employees.
Even after nearly five years of ownership by Jacobsen, a Textron Inc. company, the sudden closure of the plant on Nov. 27 came as a shock to many in the community, both inside and outside the plant.
Jacobsen/Textron has still made no official public statement regarding the closure, though the filing of Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act notification clears the way for local officials to begin offering benefits to the workers.
In Greencastle on Wednesday for a meeting with local government, industry and education officials, Mike Smith of WorkOne in Terre Haute went over some of WorkOne’s plans for Dixie Chopper workers now that WARN notification has been made.
These include an upcoming orientation session as well as a job fair.
Of course, the affected employees are also free to stop by the Greencastle WorkOne location at 1007 Mill Pond Lane or call 653-2421.
“An important element is, if you are a Dixie Chopper employee, go to your WorkOne office and get engaged with the staff,” Smith said.
Greencastle/Putnam County Development Center Director Kristin Clary emphasized the importance of registering with WorkOne before taking a new job.
“You need to contact WorkOne first,” Clary said. “If you take a job, you need to get in to get in touch with WorkOne. It can jeopardize your benefits.”
What are these benefits? Many of them involved money for education and retraining, available both to the worker and to the new employer.
For example, if a dislocated worker accepts a job with a new employer who wants to give them additional training, WorkOne can reimburse the new company for the training up to 50 percent of the worker’s wages. Smith emphasized the positive this can be for all involved.
“It’s good for the individual, it’s good for the company and it’s good for the State of Indiana because it’s not paying unemployment benefits,” he said.
In such a case, the better trained worker often finds himself or herself in a better situation than before.
“It gives me, as a worker, a lot of value,” Smith said.
Smith said he sees this process happening already, even before WorkOne has scheduled its meetings. One local human resources manager said she had meetings with former Dixie Chopper employees later on Wednesday.
“Today, Carrie Thompson at Crown Equipment is already interviewing three of the Dixie Chopper employees,” Smith said.
Calling Crown one of the best employers in the six-county area he serves, Smith said getting hired by Crown would be an upward move for these workers.
“That’s a good career move for somebody,” he said.
These net positives are the goals WorkOne has when faced with a closure like this.
“A lot of times we can take these negatives and turn them into a tremendous positive,” Smith said. He cited examples in Terre Haute in which workers who had been making $9 an hour before losing their jobs with Sony are now making $14-$18 an hour.
Having just met with local stakeholders, Smith also credited the unique level of cooperation he finds in Putnam County.
“Putnam County is a unique place because you have 100 percent partnerships,” Smith said. “They are all very supportive about passing on the message about where employees can go and what they can do.”
For example, Thompson said she would be sending the former Dixie Chopper employees to WorkOne.
No dates have been set for either event, but Smith said an orientation session would be sometime in mid-December, while a job fair is likely in mid-January.
To Smith, the most important thing for Dixie Chopper employees, whether they want to wait for the events or get the ball rolling themselves, is to contact WorkOne and claim their benefits.
“If all they want is to get back, with their skillset from Dixie Chopper that’s not going to be hard to do,” Smith said. “They have an excellent skillset going forward.
“But if they want some additional training, this is an excellent time to do that.”
Dixie Chopper had was founded by Art Evans when he and a few helpers built their very first zero-turning-radius mower in an old dairy barn on his parents' small farm east of Fillmore on April 15, 1980.
Every single Dixie Chopper ever manufactured and assembled has been made right at home in Putnam County.
At one time in the early 2000s, the company, then family-owned by the Evanses, operated the Fillmore plant, ran assembly lines in the old Mallory Capacitor Corp. building on Indianapolis Road (since demolished) and ran the Dixie Chopper Business Center at the airport with a hotel, restaurant and training facilities for its dealers and territory managers.
Dixie Chopper also rents the one-time spec building at the west end of Fillmore Road for its parts warehouse.