The State (Columbia, S.C.)
Oshkosh Decision to Build Mail Trucks in South Carolina Questioned
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Major manufacturer Oshkosh Defense says it’s sticking with South Carolina for its $155 million mail truck plant, despite efforts by Wisconsin officials and union leaders to keep the company’s new investment in their state. The Oshkosh, Wis.-based company expects to hire 1,000 workers in South Carolina’s Upstate.
In a statement Feb. 15, John Bryant, executive vice president of Oshkosh Corp. and president of Oshkosh Defense, said plans for the plant in Spartanburg County are too far along to change now, and the company looked all over Wisconsin and other states but could not find a facility large enough to build mail trucks.
He said the factory must be at least 825,000 square feet, more than twice the size of the largest Oshkosh, Wis., facility. The 1 million-square-foot former Rite Aid distribution center in Spartanburg County, where Oshkosh is locating, is in the process of being retrofitted.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) wrote to Oshkosh leaders, asking for more information on how South Carolina was chosen.
Peters (left) by J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press; Baldwin by Al Drago/Pool/Associated Press
The senators said the U.S. Postal Service press release announcing Oshkosh had won the contract seemed to say existing plants would be used, along with union workers already employed.
“Oshkosh has a longstanding and skilled workforce in Wisconsin, with robust experience in manufacturing trucks for government service,” the senators wrote.
“As Oshkosh Defense responds to these requests and continues to prepare for production of the (Next Generation Delivery Vehicle), we expect Oshkosh to focus on providing good-paying jobs, and respect collective bargaining, to support communities and work toward a sustainable future,” the senators wrote.
In a statement Feb. 14, Baldwin said she wants the trucks built in Wisconsin.
“I don’t like the fact that they decided to move production of the postal trucks to South Carolina in what appears to be a newly acquired facility with inexperienced, likely nonunion hires,” she said. “I have pressed Oshkosh Defense’s leadership about this decision, and I am pressing the U.S. Postal Service for more information as well.”
The South Carolina selection also has come up among the Democratic challengers seeking to unseat Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) in November, who has not called for Oshkosh to stay in Wisconsin.
Johnson told the Associated Press, “Obviously, I’m supportive of it. But in the end, I think when using federal tax dollars, you want to spend those in the most efficient way and if it’s more efficient, more effective to spend those in other states, I don’t have a real problem with that.”
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Spartanburg County Councilman David Britt, who has been on the council for 32 years and has worked in economic development for as long, said Baldwin’s effort is “politics at its worst.”
The South Carolina plant was announced last June, but Wisconsin officials did not raise the issue until a few weeks ago, Britt said.
He said he takes issue specifically with Baldwin’s comments about South Carolina having an inexperienced workforce.
“It’s obvious Senator Baldwin does not know what she’s speaking of,” Britt said. “All of the X cars BMW makes in the world are made here. Michelin. We have 215 international companies, making the finest products. She’s picked a fight with the wrong person.”
The Biden administration, meanwhile, has threatened to halt the contract unless more electric vehicles are made.
A portion of the new mail trucks are all-electric, and all of them are designed so they can be converted easily.
Britt said all the federal government needs to do to have more battery-powered vehicles built is change the contract.
Oshkosh is under contract with the Postal Service to make zero-emission battery-electric vehicles and fuel-efficient low-emission internal combustion engine vehicles.
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It is the Postal Service’s first large purchase of vehicles in 30 years. The company will make 50,000 to 165,000 trucks over 10 years.
The first mail trucks are to be delivered to USPS in 2023.
Oshkosh makes a line of military vehicles for combat, including some that are mine-resistant and ambush-protected. The company has 15,000 employees.
At the time the contract was announced, Bryant said Spartanburg was chosen because its workforce has a track record in advanced automotive manufacturing.
Bryant said Feb. 15 the company has hired a plant manager and other core members of the leadership team.
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