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The economic decline caused by the coronavirus forced layoffs at two Atkins manufacturing plants this week. 

Open less than a year, the Speyside Bourbon Cooperage in Atkins is feeling the impact of COVID-19 and the resulting economic slowdown.

Because of the plant’s essential business provision outlined by the Department of Homeland Security: “Workers who support the manufacture and distribution of forest products including but not limited to timber, paper and other wood products” Speyside was able to remain open.

Until now.

Speyside has announced a temporary layoff of employees for the next three to six months, although the company hopes it won’t last that long.

“COVID-19 has affected the industry as a whole with the general economic slowdown,” said Maggie Anderson, in charge of special projects and public relations. “We were blessed to be able to keep the jobs going as long as we have.”

The layoff will impact approximately 50 of the 60 employees at the Atkins plant while some people will remain on site to maintain the facility and some will go to the stave mill in Glade Spring, which is not being affected by the temporary layoff.

Employees experiencing the temporary layoff will retain their benefits, which include health insurance, Anderson said, and can return to their same job positions and salaries.

When the governor announced his stay-at-home directives and business closures, Speyside was taking steps to protect employees by stopping outside deliveries, prohibiting public access to the facility, conducting extra cleaning, and encouraging anyone sick to stay at home. Employees are not close together in the plant, Anderson said, so social distancing was able to be maintained.

Only the Atkins facility and one small stave plant in Ohio have been impacted by the temporary layoff, Anderson said. The company has applied for any available financial assistance being offered to manufacturers.

Speyside Bourbon Cooperage Inc. is an offspring of Speyside Cooperage Ltd., founded in Scotland in 1947. In 2008 Speyside Cooperage was sold to the Tonnellerie François Frères Group, a publicly held company founded in 1906 and headquartered in France. The company operates stave mills and bourbon cooperages in Kentucky, Ohio and Bath County. 

The pressing economic situation has impacted another Atkins manufacturer, too. 

Utility Trailer’s plant in Atkins has laid off more than 100 employees. 

Plant Manager Jerry Sheets said the economic decline has led the company’s Atkins plant to need to reduce their staff by about 10%. 

“Given the continuing decline in the economy, our backlog of trailer sales became unable to support our current workforce in Atkins,” Sheets said in an email.

Before resorting to a forced layoff of such a large size, the Atkins plant allowed employees who wished to do so to volunteer for the layoff.

Smyth County’s largest employer, the plant had 121 employees volunteer to be laid off at the end of the week.

“If there’s a bright side, we had enough volunteers to be able to avoid forcing any employee into a layoff at this time,” Sheets said. 

With no idea when business will improve, Sheets said he is unable to know when the plant may be able to begin recalling those employees.

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