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Playpower, Inc. exiting Farmington

FARMINGTON — After months of remaining tight-lipped about the possibility and refusing to discuss the matter publicly, Playpower, Inc. revealed Thursday that it will be closing the Farmington manufacturing facility and relocating some of the services to Monett, Mo., by year’s end.

Talk of the shutdown spread earlier in the week when some employees were called together and given the news. City officials say they had been trying to discuss the rumored plant closing with Playpower officials since the first of the year, adding that company spokespeople had become “tight lipped” in recent months.

Then Farmington city officials received a matter-of-fact e-mail message Thursday. In the message it said Playpower, Inc., based in Huntersville, N.C., would “work with all employees to transition them to the Monett facility ‘where feasible’.” The message went on to say, “Those employees who are displaced by this action and who are not transitioned to Monett, we will make every effort to engage local employers and community services to assist with their transition to other employment.”

The release went on to say the move should be done by 2010.

The latest press release referenced the transferring of the rotational molding operation to Monett. That information was speculative about a year ago, and was eventually confirmed by the company after work had begun to expand the Monett facilities. At that time it was announced that about 50 workers in the Farmington operation would be displaced … with the company to employ about 200 people at it’s growing Playpower Rotomold Center of Excellence in Monett.

“Playpower had previously announced in January 2009 the intent to combine all U.S. based rotational molding processes into a Center of Excellence … Continuing this strategy to encompass all remaining manufacturing activities allows us to build on our existing manufacturing platform and the investments we have made over the past several years. The plan is to consolidate all other manufacturing processes into a Center of Excellence also in Monett, Missouri.”

Reportedly Playpower had laid off some workers earlier in the year, and then went through another layoff about a month ago.

The company did say in the press release that “Little Tikes Commercial Sales, Marketing, Product Development, and Customer Service will remain located in the Farmington area and all market facing activities remain unchanged. We will continue to market products under the Little Tikes Commercial brand and maintain a dedicated representative network for LTC products and services.”

As of earlier this year, Playpower-Little Tikes employed about 1,000 people world wide.

The local manufacturing facility began as Iron Mountain Forge in 1979 and in 1990 added the first plastic rotational molding machine. The machine made it possible to manufacture one-piece spiral slides.

Rubbermaid acquired Iron Mountain Forge in 1993. Philosophies and mission statements for both companies were very similar. In 1995 Little Tikes Commercial acquired Omni, an indoor play manufacturer to help with the indoor play market.

A Canadian company, Paris Equipment Manufacturing Limited, was also acquired to serve the European and Canadian Markets and Ausplay, an Australian market that serves the Pacific and Asian markets.

In 1996, the Australian, Canadian, and California facilities were moved to Farmington.

Then a fire destroyed the rotational molding area and severely damaged the rest of the manufacturing facility in 1998. Some operations were taken to other facilities or temporary locations for the next several months while the Farmington plant was rebuilt and expanded.

In July of 2004 Little Tikes was purchased by PlayPower, a manufacturer of indoor and outdoor play equipment. Brands also owned by PlayPower are Miracle Recreation Equipment Company, Hags, Soft Play, EZ Dock and Miracle Water Slides.

The large plant in Farmington’s west side industrial park is owned by the Farmington Industrial Development Authority. Over the years the facility was leased first by Iron Mountain Forge, and later by subsequent owners of the manufacturing operation.

The final lease expired about a year ago. Reportedly Playpower refused to sign another lease at that time, instead opting to rent the plant month-by-month at a premium cost. That was when speculation increased that some sort of major exodus was in the planning stages by the company.

Farmington Economic Development Director Walter Williams said Thursday that the IDA and city will work aggressively to secure a new tenant for the building.

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