26 people are looking for jobs. They were laid off by Natura World. The mattress manufacturer came to town with the promise of creating up to 400 new jobs in the coming years. The move is disappointing to the business leaders that spent millions of dollars to make that happen.
Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Tim Chase said the most devastating impact is on the workers. We're extremely disappointed and very sad about losing any jobs in our community. These folks are struggling and families are struggling, our friends are struggling and our hearts go out to them for what they are enduring," said Chase.
The company got a lot of incentives to come to town. They include a $5.5M loan to purchase the building, equipment and technology licensing. Another $1M was loaned for working capital, and an additional $1M was granted to upgrade the building. In addition, the 4B Board promised cash for jobs. $8,000 for each position filled at least 6 months. $6k came from the 4B Board, and $2k from the Burkburnett Development Corporation for each job.
In all, close to $400k was paid after the positions were filled for 6 months. Most of that money was paid directly to vendors Natura World owed money to. "We allocated $1.8M for jobs and we've paid out $396k. Unless they bring back those jobs they've laid off and add more, that's going to be it," said State Representative Lanham Lyne – who serves on the 4B Board. Lyne was the Mayor of Wichita Falls when the push to bring the company to town was in full swing.
The cut backs affect the night shift. According to a statement sent to Newschannel 6 by a PR firm on behalf of Natura World, the move is geared at controlling overhead. The statement reads in part:
"We have been making steady headway to improving our production efficiency. In these trying economic times we need to carefully watch our overhead. We believe these new steps will contribute more quickly to the overall health of the company and our ability to get ourselves back on track to fulfilling the commitments we made to the State of Texas and the local community."
The quote was attributed to Natura World President Ralph Rossdeutscher.
Chase feels the company will still be viable in Wichita Falls. "Its not uncommon in the environment that we're in that manufacturers are not at full capacity," he said. Lyne agreed saying "Ii think the company will continue to work, continue to be there, I'm still optimistic about it. Its a very good company makes a great product."
Nobody is expecting Natura World to go under. Should that happen, local authorities have several layers of security on the monies loaned. They have liens on the building in Wichita Falls, real estate in Canada – where the company is based, and on technology licensing the firm uses in the production process. Should the worst case scenario happen, Chamber Board of Directors President Jim Johnson said he's confident in those positions. If it were to come to that we believe that we could come out of this and collect the loans that are owed to us," he said.
Wichita County has a tax abatement agreement with Natura World. County Judge Woody Gossom said officials will be reviewing the terms of that agreement in coming days to see what – if anything – will happen because of the layoffs.