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Bus maker DesignLine laying off workers

By Rick Rothacker
rrothacker@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte-based bus manufacturer DesignLine USA has been laying off workers as it struggles for funding, according to former employees and a letter sent to one of the workers.

The extent of the layoffs was not clear on Friday. A spokesman for the company declined to comment.

At the end of July, DesignLine closed down operations for 10 days and furloughed its workers.

In a letter to one of the terminated employees, CEO Joseph Smith said employees were being let go because of “lack of funding.” The company faced the withdrawal of an “imminent business/financial partner” and the nonpayment of past due invoices from clients, he wrote.

“It’s disgraceful that we are in the ‘banking’ capital of the richest country in the world, yet not one local bank has stepped forward to help its neighbor,” he wrote in the letter dated Tuesday and obtained by the Observer.

The company will “continue to search for a financial solution that will enable us to restart operations at which time we would like to rehire as many prior employees as possible,” the letter continues.

Employees were terminated effective July 31 – when the furloughs began – and benefits were not extended into August, according to the letter.

The firm’s headquarters and factory are off Westinghouse Boulevard, where about 250 employees produce the buses. The company has numerous contracts with cities and agencies around the country, including Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

DesignLine was the employer of former Mayor Anthony Foxx, who resigned both positions when he was confirmed as U.S. secretary of transportation. Foxx had served as deputy general counsel, making about $88,000 a year.

In recent years, the company has had several setbacks, including a lawsuit by the city of Baltimore alleging missed deadlines, a canceled contract with the Antelope Valley Transit Authority in California, and a bus that caught fire at the Charlotte airport.

The company was founded in New Zealand but moved its headquarters to Charlotte in 2006. Staff Writer Andrew Dunn contributed.

Rothacker: 704-358-5170 Twitter: @rickrothacker
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