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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Holton's final bow: Corporate owner closing Elkhorn facility

By Donna Lenz Wright/The Week

The Holton name and Elkhorn have been synonymous since the city's first days. Its first residential neighborhood was called Holton Heights and Elkhorn's bandshell was originally built to house the Holton Company Community Band.

File photo by Terry Mayer/The Week
A worker shapes the bell of a horn in this 2002 file photo.
But within two months Holton's owner, Conn-Selmer, Inc., a subsidiary of Steinway Musical Instruments, Inc., will be closing its brass manufacturing facility in Elkhorn.

Approximately 70 employees will be left without jobs as production at the 58,000-square-foot historical plant will be transferred to the Eastlake, Ohio, facility, according to a news release.

"It's disappointing," said Marilyn Putz, manager of the Walworth County Job Center. "It's been a longtime member of the employment community of the Walworth County and especially Elkhorn."

Conn-Selmer was in touch with the Walworth County Job Center before they made their announcement and is working toward finding their employees new employment, she said.

The down side is that many employees have very specific job skills that aren't comparable in other companies in this area.

"But we're working with them and it may be a matter of some retraining to help them in that transition, but we'll be providing services to them."

File photo by Terry Mayer/The Week
French horn bells await assembly at Holton's Elkhorn facility.
The Holton Company was bought by Leblanc, a division of Conn-Selmer, in 1964, and makes fluegelhorns, French horns and trombones under the labels of Holton, Farkas, Merker and Collegiate.

While the number of people losing their jobs isn't that of the Janesville General Motors' announcement earlier in the week, it's still a tough blow, Putz said.

"Its magnitude is as great, even though the numbers may not be."

Until its doors close, it holds the title as the oldest continually operating wind instrument company in the United States, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Frank Holton, first trombonist in John Phillip Sousa's band, opened an instrument shop in Chicago in 1898, then relocated to Elkhorn in 1917.

"Over the second and third quarters of 2008, the company expects to incur charges of $1.3 to $1.7 million in connection with the plant closure," according to the release. "In addition, gross margins in 2008 are expected to be negatively impacted by an additional $0.5 to $0.7 million as production is transitioned from Elkhorn to the Eastlake facility."

"Consolidating similar manufacturing operations in order to increase production efficiency is an integral part of our manufacturing strategy," said Dana Messina, CEO of Steinway Musical Instruments. "While this was a difficult decision, this consolidation will allow us to increase our efficiency and compete more effectively."

Steinway Musical Instruments, Inc., employs a workforce of over 2,200 and operates 14 manufacturing facilities in the United States and Europe. It is the largest manufacturer of band and orchestral instruments in the United States. Conn-Selmer manufactures instruments at 10 facilities.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's Leblanc, not Lablanc.

June 5, 2008 4:16 PM  
Blogger Dan Plutchak, editor said...

Fixed. Thanks. Dan

June 6, 2008 9:11 AM  
Blogger davidsk said...

Steinway CEO Dana Messina strategy is buy up the competition close the facility with no regard to the workers or the community. Messina has done this many times before to monopolize the industry, and without government regulation he will continue in his unethical ways.
Messina along with his vice president Kyle kirkland associated with convicted fellons and kirkland himself was fined and suspended from trading for 3 years for doing unethical things.
Executives of this type should tell you how Steinway musical and its subsidiary (conn-selmer) treats its employees .
A striking employee with 40 years to the conn- selmer co.
David S Kish

June 7, 2008 11:35 AM  
Anonymous Bob Bublitz said...

The recent announced closing of the Holton Brass Musical Instrument Manufacturing in Elkhorn and the LeBlanc Woodwind Musical Instrument Manufacturing in Kenosha are the end of an era and sad events for Wisconsin. These factories provided skilled work for many craftsman in Southeastern Wisconsin and part time work for many local farmers during their Winter Season. It’s joyful to know that the Getzen Company, a family run enterprise still exists in Elkhorn and is prospering. Note, this is not a “Public Corporation” whose only interest, at all cost is “profit.”

As a child, I can remember listening to the trombone lapping machines from my home a half a block away where my Uncle Gus worked for Holton’s. My Uncle Otto and his son Elmer worked for the Getzen Company. It was common throughout the sixties for many families to be involved in piece work in their homes. The band shell in the downtown Elkhorn Park, supported by Holton’s provided enjoyable entertainment during the summer for Elkhorn and surrounding residents. I have fond memories of riding my bicycle to the park on warm summer Friday evenings in my youth, saying hello to relatives and friends and then listing to the beautiful music. On some Friday nights, we even enjoyed ice cream in the park from the Methodist Church Social. There were also drum and bugle corps competitions when the whole park area would fill up with people for three days.

My family owned a case manufacturing business at 209 West Page Street for over thirty years before it was purchased by LeBlanc during the summer 1966. Eventually it was moved to the second floor of the Holton Building. In 1949 this business produced 24,000 cases. Included were clarinet cases for LeBlanc, trumpets and cornets for Getzen, trombones and French horns for Holton, flutes for Armstrong and saxophone, sopranos and altos. Likewise, it also no longer exists. Rumor has it, the manufacturing equipment was shipped to China a few years back. Getzen, Holton, Leblanc, Allied Music, DEG Music Products, Edwards Trombones, General Woodworkers, W & L Case Company, Bublitz Case Company and others provided a livelihood for many local residents who enjoyed their work. The companies who have gone out of business will be missed by the community.

The same individuals who make decisions to close local businesses, then consolidate or move them to China or India are for the most part similar to the people who are building and enjoying multi-million dollar mini-castles on local lakes. These lakes are better suited environmentally for the previous cottages which have been torn down to make way for the palaces. Meanwhile towns nearly collapse, former craftsmen and tradesmen are out of work and life has changed forever. Some say it’s just economics; the result of moving from an agricultural, to an industrial, and now a information economy; or progress. To me it is a simple case of extreme greed by a few corporate executives without any social responsibility for the workers who built these companies and our fine country.

Bob Bublitz

June 9, 2008 11:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lets not forget about other brass and woodwind plant closing, the G. LEBLANC CORP. in Kenosha, Wi USA the brother factory to the Frank Holton facility located in Elkhorn, Wi USA. The death of Mr. Vito Pascucci in 2004 was the death of world class top of the line brass and woodwind intruments. Conn Selmer Elkhart facilities can never make an instrument as good as the G. Leblanc Corp did.

July 20, 2008 11:07 PM  

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