The imminent closure of the Fargo factory has left many grappling for an answer and dozens of workers in search of a job, but local leaders on a sacred mission hoped to reach out to them on Thursday.
“Atchison has always been a strong community of faith,” Mayor Shawn Rizza said at a public observance of the National Day of Prayer at Veterans Memorial Park along the Missouri riverfront. “The church is what connects us to God and to each other. There is a lot of work to do in our city.”
The Fargo factory owner, Electronic Components International of St. Louis, hasn’t responded to questions from Atchison Globe and the city of Atchison local government on what it plans with the factory. Absent such confirmation, word of the planned closure has spread throughout the community, and steps are being taken to cope with the loss.
Rizza took the opportunity on Thursday evening to try to soothe worried hearts at the National Day of Prayer event.
“There’s a lot of need,” he said. “I think particularly of the employees who are potentially losing their jobs at Fargo ... and the families across the river still picking up the pieces from our spring floods. The needs of this area are great and our resources, limited. The power of God has no limits.”
Event emcee Chuck Tilton professed his faith that God will lead Atchison through these and other problems, if the community puts its faith in Him and asks for His aid.
“Our pastors pray, and they pray all the time. Especially for Atchison. Atchison needs some prayer right now, yes it does,” Tilton told the crowd. “I know there’s some people in Atchison County, this whole area needs prayer, just like the whole United States does. Everyone needs prayer. So that’s what we’ve come to do tonight.”
Rizza said the Christian community is perhaps the best-equipped institution in town to embrace an outsider, or someone who is in need but may not actively seek it out in a trying time. He agreed that from an economic standpoint, Fargo’s role in the local economy — blue collar labor with lots of on-the-job training good for people of many backgrounds — will be hard to replace.
“Whenever you lose those, I don’t know if you call them entry-level jobs, but jobs suitable for someone who has had stumbles and who wants to try to right their life, it’s a loss for the whole community,” he said. “Hopefully, we have some employers who are ready to step up and take some of those employees in.”
Pastor Ken Watkins, who spoke at the National Day of Prayer event along with Tilton, Pastor Paul Kelley, Chris Wagner, Pastor Paul Cline and The Rev. Robert Zigler, said Fargo factory in particular is a big loss for the town, compared to other employers. Watkins has ministered for years to inmates and ex-convicts in Atchison County; the factory had a longstanding practice of offering a second chance to hard workers with limited education or a troubled past.
“Now that’s gone. Some will have to go to St. Joe, others have fewer options,” he said. “But don’t give up hope. Come in and talk to us pastors, get some counseling, go through work programs, but just don’t give up. Don’t lay down and say it’s done.”
A federal investigation and eventual cooperative effort with local law enforcement has produced the arrest of an Easton man on alleged child porn offenses.
Authorities with the Sheriff’s Office arrested Christopher L. Patrick, 41, on Monday, April 29, on a felony Atchison County District Court warrant for three counts of sexual exploitation of a child, Sheriff Jack Laurie has announced. Atchison Police Chief Mike Wilson confirmed APD assisted with the investigation.
Authorities served a search warrant in November 2018 at an Atchison apartment. APD detectives and federal agents with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security subsequently presented the investigative file to Atchison County Attorney Sherri Becker, Wilson said. She filed the three counts of exploitation of a child against Patrick.
“We knew he would be located in Leavenworth County, and the Leavenworth County Sheriff’s Office located and arrested him our warrant on April 28,” Wilson said.
The complaint against Patrick, filed April 25 in district court, alleges he was in possession of visual depictions of a child younger than 18 years of age engaging in sexually explicit conduct. Patrick faces three identical felony counts sexual exploitation of a child. The complaint centers on allegations that Patrick was in possession of the images on Sept. 12, 2017, Sept. 24, 2017 and Nov. 1, 2018 in Atchison County.
Since his arrest, Patrick has made an appearance in district court. He indicated his intent to apply for court-appointed counsel. He remains in the county jail on a $50,000 bond amount. Patrick is scheduled for the 1 p.m. criminal docket Monday, May 6.
Atchison Globe news reports indicate Patrick formerly resided in Atchison when he had a previous run-in with law in connection with obscene language uttered in public during the Amelia Earhart Festival back in 2017. Police arrested Patrick prior to the Concert in the Sky Fireworks on July 15, 2017, in the 400 block of River Road near Independence Park for inappropriate remarks uttered to festival-goers.
Festival attendees alerted police about a man inciting a disturbance. They indicated to police that the man — later identified as Patrick — had shouted vulgar comments in an offensive and belligerent manner. Patrick replied to police with obscene language, according to the news account. Patrick was taken to jail and booked for a misdemeanor crime.
He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct about a week later in district court. Patrick was ordered to pay a $100 fine and $158 in court costs.
Matt Renk is stepping up in rank at Atchison High School.
In less than 10 minutes Friday, May 3, USD 409 Board of Education members unanimously voted during a special meeting session to transfer Assistant Principal/Athletic Director Renk to the position of head principal at AHS.
Renk is a familiar face at the school. Renk is currently in his third year as part of the administrative team at AHS. Prior to that, Renk initially served one year in the district as an English teacher. Then Renk relocated to Atchison County Community Junior/Senior High School, where he served as the athletic director/ assistant principal before he returned to AHS.
Renk will fill the principal position for the 2019-20 schoolyear that opened up after current Principal Bryon Hanson accepted the superintendent’s position at the Callaway, Nebraska School District. Board members accepted Hanson’s resignation April 8. His last day with 409 is June 30.
Board members Vice President Carrie Sowers, Rick Zumbrunn and Sean Crittendon served on the AHS Principal Screening and Interview Team to seek Hanson’s replacement. The initial applicants’ screening was scheduled for April 26. Interviews were scheduled for May 1. Renk of one of two candidates interviewed.
A key manufacturer for Atchison and the surrounding area is set to shut down.
The Fargo factory, as it is commonly known, is facing closure by its owner, Electronic Components International, based in the St. Louis, Missouri, area. A document obtained by Atchison Globe lists the official closing date, subject to change, as June 28. The factory has operated as part of Fargo Assembly of PA, Inc. within ECI, following a 2017 purchase of the firm named for Fargo, North Dakota.
The factory is a longtime parts supplier for Harley-Davidson, Inc., chiefly producing wire harnesses and other parts for motorcycles. Harley announced it is shutting down its massive northern Kansas City factory last year. The place went up for sale in February ahead of Harley’s planned final shutdown this summer.
Now, Atchison is set to deal with the aftermath. Work is being throttled down on a factory floor that in recent years saw up to 200 full time and temporary workers employed. The document confirming the closure date refers to a promised severance package, which varies according to a given employee’s months of service.
“It’s going to be hard,” a confidential source within ECI said. “When all of them hit the job market at the same time, that’s going to be hard on Atchison. I know there’s also several St. Joe people that have worked at the plant for a lot of years. People who have been doing that for 10, 20 years.”
The confidential source, who asked not to be identified out of fear of reprisal as they conclude their affairs associated with ECI, told Atchison Globe that employees, called into a conference room on Wednesday morning, learned how they would all lose their jobs by no later than the end of June. The source said any transfers can likely be ruled out; what work might have been done will now be outsourced outside the U.S.
“Nobody said anything,” the source said. “Nobody asked any questions. A few quietly shed tears. (Other workers) came in afterward and were like, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ Just didn’t have the heart to tell them. They had to go in the room and find out.”
Repeated messages left by phone at the ECI corporate headquarters on Wednesday and Thursday have not been returned as of Thursday afternoon. A Wednesday call to the office of its CEO, David Webster, reached an administrative assistant who said Webster would provide information on the situation promptly, upon concluding another meeting. However, no further input has been heard. Webster’s office didn’t return a follow-up call on Thursday, and the company had no statement on Friday as well.
The confidential source said Fargo employees have resolved that a closure has been likely ever since the Harley news hit last year. The source estimated that Harley-related products represent more than 75 percent of the revenue for the Fargo factory.
The source emphasized that, while veteran workers and others in the know all expected the bad news to come sooner or later, they believe everyone who works in Atchison learned it at approximately the same time.
“Management kept saying, ‘Sorry, we don’t know anything. Sorry, we don’t know anything. We’ll tell you as soon as we do,” the source said. “I believe they were telling the truth.”
Joe Warren, City of Atchison director of administrative services, called on Thursday morning to discuss the planned closure. A follow-up call for clarification revealed that the city government has had no more success in obtaining official confirmation of the closure from ECI than Atchison Globe, but that third-party input has led the city to conclude that the plant is closing. Warren described Fargo as one of Atchison’s top employers.
A spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Labor, reached by phone on Thursday afternoon, said that the state government can’t release any information on whether or not it has received unemployment claims from Fargo factory workers, citing privacy rules.
Any closure would be a follow-up blow to the local economy. The Lockwood Co. Inc., ceased most operations at the end of April. The community lost the Cash Saver grocery store in January. It’s not clear what options are available to staffers who may be headed out the door.
“For some of them, that’s all they’ve done, for years,” the source familiar on the closure plans said. “It’s going to be hard for them. They’re scared. All you can do is just hold each other up. But you know? I feel for them. I really do.”