Seattle company leaves tornado-damaged Neb. plant

WAYNE, Neb. (AP) - A mattress pad company has decided not to rebuild its tornado-damaged plant in northeast Nebraska and instead will move production to North Carolina.

The Wayne plant run by Seattle-based Pacific Coast Feather was one of several businesses damaged or destroyed on Oct. 4 by the tornado, which registered EF4 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, with wind speeds approaching 170 mph. More than a dozen people in the area were injured, but no one was killed.

About 80 workers of Pacific Coast Feather gathered in the basement of Calvary Bible Church in Wayne on Thursday to pick up their Christmas bonuses and hear an update on the plant's status.

The news was bad.

Company President and CEO Joe Crawford said that after a two-month fact-gathering process and search for a suitable building, executives decided that rebuilding was not a viable option.

Crawford said the company had commitments to its customers that it had to meet in order to keep them. Production had to resume by March, and that couldn't be done in Wayne but could at the North Carolina location, he said.

"Please understand this was an incredibly hard decision," Crawford told the employees, some of whom wept. "We wish we could have found a way to stay in or near Wayne, but the needs of the business leave us no choice but to move immediately back into production to support our customers."

The company will offer help with moving expenses if any of the Nebraska workers hired before April 1 wants to move with the company.

Pacific Coast Feather also will continue paying full salaries through the end of the year and all medical insurance premiums for employees and family members through March 31.

Wayne Mayor Ken Chamberlain expressed confidence that the workers and his city of 5,600 residents would meet the challenges posed by the loss of the plant.

But Chamberlain also said: "I think it's going to be difficult for the families to accept what's going on and be able to move on."