KOHLER, WI—Kohler Co. will shut down engine production here and move the work to Hattiesburg, MS. Some 325 positions in Wisconsin will be eliminated, but all affected employees will be offered alternative jobs here, a company spokesman said Wednesday. About 280 production jobs and 45 administrative positions will be cut.

Kohler has had an engine-manufacturing operation in Hattiesburg since 1998. Consolidating the engine work in Mississippi "will create a simplified customer experience and is not about reducing headcount or downsizing the business," the company said in a statement.

Kohler now employs 350 people at its Hattiesburg plant. The company plans to add to that operation by leasing 300,000 square feet in an industrial park, hiring 250 people over the next two years and investing more than $15 million. 

Mississippi Development Authority spokeswoman Tammy Craft says that state and local governments could offer Kohler more than $18.5 million in tax breaks and subsidies. Among the subsidies would be up to $4.5 million in rebates on worker income taxes. New Mississippi workers are projected to make $45,000 a year, on average. That’s enough to qualify the company for the rebates.

Tim Tayloe, president of United Auto Workers Local 833, which represents Kohler production employees in Sheboygan County, says that current workers in Hattiesburg make about $16 an hour. Engine division production workers in Sheboygan County average $26 or $27 an hour.

Some Kohler engines power the generators the company makes, while other engines go into such products as snowblowers, lawn mowers and wood splitters, Tayloe says one of the two Wisconsin engine production lines is expected to be shut down in September and the other by year’s end. A company spokesman says that assembly will be phased out in Sheboygan County by the end of 2019, but that machining would remain throughout 2020.