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Still a pulse

Atmore’s high-tech Brown Precision plant ‘mothballed,’ not dead

News Staff Writer

Officials of Brown Precision paraphrased American humorist Mark Twain last week, saying that rumors of the local aerospace manufacturing facility’s death are exaggerated. They say the plant still has an economic pulse, although they admit it’s a weak one.
Brown Precision, Inc.’s Co-CEO, R. Gregory “Greg” Brown, posted to the Atmore News Facebook page the following statement regarding the $7 million high-tech manufacturing plant’s Atmore future:
“Due to the twin crises of COVID and the Boeing 737-MAX program, and the subsequent 3-year struggle to pivot away from commercial aerospace and into DoD aerospace manufacturing contract work, Brown Precision Inc. has made the decision to temporarily ‘mothball’ its Atmore, Alabama facility.
“It is hoped that Brown Precision, Inc. … will reopen its operations in Atmore, Alabama when sustainable. We are hopeful of being a part of the Atmore community for many years to come.”
Having fought through the COVID pandemic, which disrupted global supply chains and sent raw materials prices soaring, the company was dealt a crushing blow recently when a door blew off one of Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft while it was in-flight.
A Federal Aviation Administration audit revealed that Boeing and one of its suppliers, Spirit AeroSystems, had ignored quality control standards on the company’s new 737 Max series and shut the project down. Brown Precision-Atmore’s largest contract was for production of various components for the same aircraft.
Brown’s local presence made the Huntsville-based company the first resident of the city’s Rivercane Industrial Park, just off Interstate 65. Officials were counting on the company, which also manufactures components for the medical industry, to be the centerpiece that would attract other industrial concerns to Rivercane.
Jess Nicholas, executive director of the Escambia County Industrial Development Authority, said Brown has simply found itself in lean times, as contract manufacturers often do.
“Of course, it all rolled downhill from that Boeing disaster,” Nicholas said. “But contract manufacturing is a really fluid business, and it’s based on whether you have a contract now, and at how much that contract is valued. There are going to be some lean times, and this is a lean time for them. You just don’t have happen what happened here in Atmore ‘just because’.”
Mayor Jim Staff said the near-shutdown is disappointing, but agreed that the company never got its feet on solid enough ground to meet its lofty employment goal of 100 to 125 employees within a year of operations.
Failure to meet that goal cost the city, which had procured a $300,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) based upon projections that at least 35 jobs would be created, $120,000.
In August 2022, Atmore’s city council passed a resolution asking Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) to adjust the estimated employment impact to 18, since Brown, at the time, “has only been able to create 18 new permanent jobs at the facility” (actually, 17 permanent fulltime jobs and two permanent part-time jobs that counted as one equivalent fulltime job).
“I think the most employees they’ve had at one time was 25,” Staff said. “We had gotten an employment guarantee grant from Delta Regional Authority, and we had to pay back $120,000. They (Brown) were supposed to be our building block for Rivercane, and they still could be. We don’t know any of the ins and outs of this, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed.”
Staff and Nicholas each praised Brown Precision, especially Co-CEO Dan Brown, for its community involvement and support during the six years since the factory opened here. Brown and his family moved from Huntsville to Baldwin County so that he could manage the Atmore operation.
Nicholas said he’s just glad the rumors that swirled around the community last week proved to be not quite true.
“My assumption was, from all the rumors, they were closed down, going to stop doing business,” he said. “They are not closed. Dan and two other guys will still be out there, still booking business out of this location.
“They are not leaving the building; they are not turning the lights off in the building. They are going to continue to fight through it and try to make it work, and we’re going to do everything we can to help them.
“If they want to keep fighting, we want to fight with them.”