By Jordan Gerard
Editor, The Caledonia Argus
A familiar place and common name could soon be less prominent on Caledonia and Houston County’s business rosters, as Miken’s parent companies have plans to close the facility within 18-24 months.
The plan was first announced at a city council meeting on July 12, and since then, local officials, area and state legislators have been working diligently to reverse Miken/Rawlings’ decision.
City Administrator Adam Swann said Miken Sports is one of the city and county’s biggest private employers. Prior to covid-19, the company retained about 129 employees. Recently, they’ve reduced that number to 70 full-time and 10 part-time positions and four people working from ABLE, Inc. Miken is expected to leave behind a small sales team in Caledonia.
Furthermore, the facility is a multi-million dollar space that is leased, and contributes significant property taxes. There are currently three buildings used by Miken.
“Miken has been a great community partner,” Swann said. “They’re a huge asset. To lose that support in a community partner is devastating.”
Swann added having helmets and bats produced in Caledonia was a “point of pride” for the city, and when visitors learned this is where MLB equipment was produced, they were always surprised and impressed.
Though he remains hopeful that Rawlings will change their mind, if the plant does close, he isn’t sure where those jobs are going to be filled or replaced.
“Maybe another company wants to come in. The city can provide incentives to come in and try to do that,” Swann said. “We want to be able to say we did everything we could.”
The 20-year-old plant in Caledonia was the manufacturer of composite bats for slow pitch softball and girls fast pitch softball, baseball bats, and MLB helmets.
Mike Thompson, chief marketing officer for Rawlings, said the helmet production will be moved to the city of Washington, Missouri, where the distribution center is located. The painting facility where MLB helmets are custom-painted and pads assembled in the helmets is located within the distribution center. Sanding, inventory and shipping is also under that roof.
“This streamlines things. Everything is centrally located under one roof,” Thompson said.
Bat production will be moved to China, which was a result of Rawlings and the Seidler Equity Partners acquisition of Easton Diamond Sports. That acquisition came with an exclusive partnership located in China: a worldwide supplier for youth sports.
Thompson admitted the move was painful.
“As painful as it is, and it is painful, ... Caledonia has great people ... it was strictly a business decision,” he said.
After the plant closes, a small group of sales and marketing individuals will remain in Caledonia. Thompson said Caledonia won’t lose its community support from Miken.
“I don’t foresee us not supporting. We’re involved at every level of play. Youth to high school, to collegiate, minor and pro leagues,” he added. “We are deeply embedded into sports. Rawlings is a 134 year old company based in Missouri.”
As for employee severance packages, Thompson said he could not speak on specifics of that, but he knew “there are certain wage programs in place right now” and “efforts will be made to assist employees.”
Swann, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN), State Rep. Greg Davids (R-Preston) and Jeremy Miller (R-Winona), Economic Development Authority (EDA) members, council members, county board members and others held a Zoom conference on Thursday, July 29, to find a strategy that will encourage the company to keep its plant in Caledonia.
In the Zoom meeting, Mayor DeWayne Schroeder said it came as a surprise to the council and members had heard it on the street, never receiving anything official from Miken or Rawlings.
“It’s quite a loss for us if they don’t change their mind,” he said. “They do a lot for the school, sports, anything that is going on. They’ve been very generous in fundraisers and a big part of the town.”
Houston County Commissioner Bob Burns echoed those thoughts and said Miken provides “good quality jobs” for Caledonia. He added it would have a detrimental effect on the community. Commissioner Eric Johnson said Miken employees are proud of the work they do. He added people from all over Houston County work at Miken, in addition to those from Caledonia.
Swann explained Miken leaving could have a ripple effect if workers have to relocate, noting that housing prices could be depressed and school districts would also be affected.
Houston County EDA director Allison Wagner said they would like to relocate those workers in Caledonia and Houston County, noting that there are enough vacancies to do so. She said they didn’t want to see people leaving.
Davids told the Argus he was “totally caught off guard” and “didn’t see this one coming” when he heard about Miken closing. He and Miller heard the news from the city, county and concerned citizens in Caledonia.
“Unfortunately, that company owned by Major League Baseball, America’s pasttime, is moving to communist China,” he told the Argus. “I’ve been working on this for a while, with Sen. Miller. ... We’ve had several conversations with Rawlings that went nowhere. The company made a decision. I think it’s an unwise decision.”
Davids and Miller had two meetings with Rawlings before July 29’s Zoom conference. First, Rawlings said they may have had a “window of opportunity to better the decision they made,” but then in the second meeting said they were “too far down the path and the decision would not be changed.”
Both representatives encouraged Rawlings to keep the manufacturing in Caledonia and even expand it, Miller explained. Rawlings said they would be saving about $4 to $10 million a year, and they also mentioned in the meetings that “it would take a miracle” to keep them in Caledonia.
The first priority was to keep Miken in Caledonia, but if that doesn’t happen, then the focus shifts to replacing those jobs in the Caledonia area, Miller added.
Davids hasn’t given up yet though, as he said he’s going to make every effort he can, along with Smith, Hagedorn and Miller (R-Winona).
“It’s a very, very unwise decision by Rawlings. They need to make it right,” he said.
He added Minnesota and local leaders need to make it more favorable to do business in the U.S., and the issue of moving businesses overseas does not only affect Miken, but also other companies.
“There are many businesses that are lured for higher profits by going off-shore or lower wages or lower environmental standards,” he said.
In the Zoom call, Davids said he’s optimistic that the letter by Smith and statement by Hagedorn will get MLB and Seidler Equity Partners’ attention.
U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) wrote a strongly-worded letter to MLB and Seidler Equity Partners on July 24, demanding them to reverse their decision.
In the letter, she said explained how Caledonia “will face significant hardship from the loss of Miken’s jobs and community contributions.” She also talked about producing sports equipment for an iconic American sports league in China, saying, “Adding to my outrage is the fact that you will reportedly be moving Miken’s bat production to China, which flies in the face of MLB’s status as an iconic American sports league.”
In the Zoom conference, Smith said she would keep working to find a solution and what they can do to try to influence that decision.
“We can remind people what a great place Caledonia is, and what good employees we have here,” she said.
Smith added that though she is a big Twins fan, the problem was that MLB asks for taxpayer support, subsidies and anti-trust law exemptions, then they “turn around and move jobs to China.”
“To be rewarded this way, you have to call it out,” she said. Smith is still awaiting a response from MLB and Seidler Equity Partners.
“It’s a decision made by a private company. At the end of the day, they’re the ones that take responsibility for it,” Smith added. “My job is to draw attention to it. We’ll work with the city and county and state and be helpful in any way we can. These are our folks ... help them have a good landing and a good place to work. It’s important for families and the economic health of the community.”
Miken is owned by Rawlings, which is owned by Seidler Equity Partners and Major League Baseball (MLB). Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) has also been alerted. Seidler Equity Partners’ co-founder and managing partner, Peter Seidler, is the owner of the San Diego Padres baseball team.
Editor’s note: MLB has not responded to comment. This story will be updated as more details become available.