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Deal to keep Bushnell factory open: ‘Today ought to be a celebration’

Employees, holding "Marshalltown Rocks!" signs, posed with the new owners for a photo after Wednesday morning's announcement.
Rich Egger
Employees posed with the new owners for a photo after Wednesday morning's announcement.

Bushnell Mayor Robin Wilt remembers the sounds of summer nights with the windows open as she grew up in the small western Illinois community.

“And you would lie there at night and hear the hammers drop all night long. It wasn’t a bothersome noise. It was a home noise. Between hammers and trains, that’s all you heard all night long,” Wilt said.

“That’s a good sound to hear, and I can’t wait to continue hearing them here as Vaughan continues to prosper.”

Vaughan & Bushnell Manufacturing Company, a 155-year old manufacturer of hammers, pry bars, and other hand tools, appeared to be on the verge of closing due to financial difficulties, leaving its 130 employees without a job.

But Wednesday morning on the floor of one of the company’s 14 buildings in town, the company’s new owner allayed those fears.

“Let’s enjoy a little bit of a celebration today, and then we’ll get back to work a little bit later because we’ve got a lot of work to do. But today ought to be a celebration,” Joe Carter said to cheers from employees.

Carter is President and CEO of Iowa-based Marshalltown, which also makes tools.

Carter said a verbal agreement on the acquisition was reached last week and it was finalized mid-afternoon Tuesday after months of negotiations.

Mike Havens, Kim Pierce, Robin Wilt, Joe Carter, and Sal Garza (left to right).
Rich Egger
Mike Havens, Kim Pierce, Robin Wilt, Joe Carter, and Sal Garza (left to right).

He started looking at the company last September, but said the finances were in rough shape and the previous owners were asking for too much money for it.

“It was a lost cause by my mind of where we were headed,” Carter said.

He credited the city and the state for working with him to get to this point.

“Your spirit – your desire to make this happen – is the only reason that we’re still here,” Carter said.

He said Kim Pierce was a key figure in getting the deal done. Pierce is executive director of the Macomb Area Economic Development Corporation and a representative for the Bushnell Development Corporation.

Carter said, “There was one time I’m sitting in a gas station talking to her on the phone and I said, No!”

But Pierce wouldn’t hear it.

“I couldn’t accept that,” she said. “So I just started making my phone calls – to the state, asking them what they could do.”

Pierce said they’re still working out details about the incentives. She said there are a lot of programs through the governor’s office to help existing factories and manufacturers.

Sal Garza of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity praised Carter and his company for working with local and state leaders to keep the plant open.

“Too often we hear about an organization, a company closing down. Today, we’re happy to share, and be a part of, the good news. We’re changing the script,” Garza said.

The City of Bushnell also hopes to help Marshalltown through a deal regarding utility costs. The city operates its own utility.

Mayor Wilt said it’s phenomenal that Vaughan has a new owner.

“It’s been three-plus months of undecidedness, and doom and gloom, and hope and faith, all rolled into one, and today it’s a great day to be from Bushnell,” she said.

Plant manager Mike Havens has worked at Vaughan for 35 years. He started out in the factory working on the shop floor.

Havens said the community has gone through some anxious times lately, including in his house.

“I promised my 12-year old Crumbl cookies if we stay open. And she kept saying, dad, dad, what’s the news? Can we go get crumble cookies? So she will be thrilled to know she gets Crumbl cookies,” he said.

Havens said keeping Vaughan open is good for the entire community, which has around 2,700 residents according to 2020 census figures. He said small businesses where people eat and shop benefit from having all those employees in town.

Prior to the acquisition, Marshalltown had 600 employees. It’s been around for 134 years.

The Bushnell factory will retain the Vaughan name. All of its workers are now on Marshalltown’s payroll.

Carter declined to reveal the acquisition price.

Vaughan expanded its product lines in 2018 with the acquisition of Dasco Pro, Inc., which manufactures chisels and punches.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.