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— Fort Smith continues to suffer from a decline in jobs as a manufacturer of limousines, shuttle buses and hearses says it is laying off 42 workers at its plant in western Arkansas.

Eighteen people were laid off last week at Federal Coach; the rest likely will be out of work this week, said Jennifer Pogue, human resources manager for the J.B. Poindexter & Co. subsidiary.

Chairman John Poindexter said the workforce reduction was a result of reduced demand. Limousines amount to about 30 percent of the company's customer base and demand for the luxury vehicles is negligible.

"In funeral coaches, demand has held up relatively well, down but not down disastrously," he said. "With shuttle buses, demand is down disastrously."

Poindexter said the response to a new company sales campaign has been slight but encouraging. The plant has gone to three-day weekends and closed down for a week or two at a time to match production with demand. Pogue said that with the layoffs, the plant might return to five-day work weeks.

Before the layoffs, Federal Coach had 179 workers at the Fort Smith plant.

Poindexter said some of Federal Coach's competitors have shut down completely so he was pleased to keep some employees.

"We're hopeful we'll recover in a way that is stronger and better than our competitors," he said.

In recent months, area manufacturers have made job reductions ranging in size from 700 people in November at a Whirlpool plant to about 35 employees at Trane, effective Monday. Trane also let about 100 employees go in January.

Michael Barr, president of the local Manufacturing Executive Association, said the size of the layoffs appear to be getting smaller.

"There is some more stability out there than there was several months ago," he said. "Spring and summer increases in demand are a moderating effect. I'm not getting real excited about where we're at. You're seeing more adjustment rather than realigning businesses" with the recent layoffs.


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