Albany-based plane manufacturer  lays off 113 as it struggles to reorganize

Thrush Aircraft of Albany received a $200,000 grant in 2014 from a Job Investment Fund created utilizing MEAG credits.

ALBANY – Albany and Dougherty County officials say they are doing what they can to assist more than 100 Thrush Aircraft workers who were laid off after the company filed for bankruptcy earlier this month and also to protect $200,000 in grant money given to the company.

The Albany-based manufacturer of aircraft used extensively in agricultural and firefighting roles filed for Chapter 11 protection on Sept. 5.

Thrush received a grant from the city’s Job Investment Fund in 2014 to help create 100 new jobs, a goal the company met in 2016, said Justin Strickland, president of the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission.

“Right now, we have our legal counsel looking into the stipulation for how jobs were to be maintained,” Strickland said. “My understanding is there were 113 employees who were laid off. Because they filed for bankruptcy, that’s something from the standpoint of the EDC (where) we’re having legal counsel look into that.”

Funding for the grant came from an EDC Job Investment Fund created with part of millions of dollars the city of Albany received in credits from the Municipal Electricity Authority of Georgia.

Meanwhile, emphasis has shifted to assisting employees who lost their jobs. Thrush employees met with officials in the Georgia Department of Labor office in Albany on Friday, Strickland said.

Thrush has announced that it is bringing in new leadership and will restructure to improve the company’s financial situation.

“We are working with them, but we’re also trying to help these affected employees maintain employment to the best of our ability,” Strickland said. “We’ve evaluated all resources the state can provide through their time of unemployment.”

Thrush announced on Sept. 5 that the bankruptcy was the second phase in a three-step process, with the first being an announcement made the week prior that it was bringing in new leadership and financial reorganization.

“This phase of building a bigger and better Thrush Aircraft is anticipated to be temporary, with the company soon to enter a planned phase three — which will include the announcement of the company’s new leadership team as it emerges in a stronger position for long-term success,” the company said in a Sept. 5 news release.

Thrush has always been resilient, Thrush Vice President Eric Rojek said in the news release.

“As are skill, determination and trust,” he said, “restructuring a company is always a challenge by any measure, but it’s a well-planned effort we are fully prepared for. In the meantime, I can assure our customers, prospects and fans that sales, deliveries and product support are continuing unabated here in Albany and around the world in both agriculture and firefighting areas.”

Albany City Manager Sharon Subadan said the city doesn’t plan to “pile on” while Thrush officials work their way through bankruptcy.

“Yes, there are ‘clawback’ terms in the Job Investment Fund grants, but that’s not something we’re primarily concerned with right now,” Subadan said Tuesday. “We’re taking a wait-and-see approach as the company tries to line up a new management plan. The last thing we want to do is pile on while they’re trying to get things together.

“What we understand is that Thrush was at or near meeting the requirements (of 100 new employees to qualify for) the grant. We’re going to be patient as they try to work their way through this.”

Thrush’s history dates back to the mid-1960s with ties to Texas-based North American Rockwell planes. Rockwell moved production to Albany in 1970 and later sold the company to Ayres, which itself declared bankruptcy in 2001. The company was revived in 2003 and renamed Thrush.

Carlton Fletcher and Jennifer Parks contributed to this report.

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