By John Deming, Atlantic News, Staff Writer

Atlantic News, Friday, January 28, 2005

[The following article is courtesy of Atlantic News.]

HAMPTON — Mark Precourt doesn’t know exactly how many people have been hired back at Foss Manufacturing after the “seasonal layoffs” that took place late last year.

He just knows that he’s not one of them.

“Far as I know, they hired a few people back,” said Precourt. “[Owner Steve Foss] calls it a ‘seasonal layoff,’ but it’s the first time in 10 years I’ve been laid off.”

Precourt said he is one of 150 Foss employees who were laid off just before the holiday season in 2004. He said it is his understanding that “only half a dozen or so” have been hired back.

At the time, Foss said the layoffs were “purely seasonal” and that he was “expecting to bring everybody back after the new year.” “We’ve started recalling some people,” said Foss.

Foss refused to report exactly how many jobs were lost and how many employees have been hired back.

“We give out no information,” he said. “We’re a privately held company.” Precourt, who lives with his wife and retired mother, said finances haven’t been easy.

“Of course it’s affected my life,” he said. “You’ve got to tighten up your bills and look for other opportunities.”

For Precourt, that means returning to the trade he practiced for more than two decades before he began working at Foss – carpentry. He’ll build anything from a house to finished cabinetry, he said.

He hasn’t done any advertising, but has gotten three or four jobs via word of mouth thus far, he said.

“We’re getting some jobs lined up,” he said, noting that he’s currently redoing two long decks at the Marguerite Motel. “I’ve got over 25 years in the trade.”

Precourt made some money selling Christmas trees over the holiday season, as he has done for the past 10 years. But things got difficult when his mother was stricken with pneumonia in early January and spent five days in the hospital.

“The bills are still in the mail,” he said.

Precourt said he thinks no one’s to blame for the loss of his job. “I think everything’s slowed down since 9/11,” he said. Both he and Foss have indicated that rising fuel costs may have played a hand in the cutbacks.

Precourt said he thinks that Foss Manufacturing – which he called one of the biggest employers on the Seacoast – is doing fine, but also said that he saw a decline in its business over his tenure.

When he started there 10 years ago, employees were involved in a profit-sharing program in which he received $400-$600 a month, Precourt said. That program was cut out around five or six years ago, he said.

Around three years ago, the company stopped contributing to 401K plans, according to Precourt. The company used to be open seven days a week, but now closes down on weekends, he said.

“It takes a lot of energy to run that plant,” Precourt said. Precourt also said that he once had full health coverage at Foss, but eventually had to start paying in to the program.

One source estimated that in past years, only 20 to 40 people would lose their jobs during seasonal layoffs – a far cry from the 150 jobs Precourt claims were lost in late 2004.

A decade ago the company was named the second largest privately owned corporation in the state, he said, and it had around 550 employees – now, he estimated, there are around 350.

Precourt said that some employees, fearing layoff, have quit jobs at Foss.

“Good workers are laid off, and [others] feel their jobs are in jeopardy,” he said.

Foss has not confirmed any of these numbers, and whether the company has seen any sort of decline in business is not known; Precourt indicated that despite layoffs, business at Foss Manufacturing is likely healthy.

“They have work,” he said. “They have to do some price increases because of the fuel.”

In December, Foss said that the company was still progressing, and that seasonal layoffs are always expected.

“We’re still going ahead with new investments,” he said.

Foss Manufacturing produces engineered, non-woven fabrics and specialty synthetic fibers, for a variety of applications and markets. According to the company’s Web site, Foss Manufacturing is a “well-known pioneer in using synthetic fibers.”

The fibers are used for a number of common purposes, including floor carpeting in automobiles and “pretty much anything where traditional polyester-based styles are used,” according to a representative.

The company’s fibers are produced with uniform colors, and don’t employ traditional dying methods. This is environmentally friendly because it does not dump dyes down the drain, according to the Web site.