Harley-Davidson Inc. said it will build a plant in Thailand ’s Rayong province, southeast of Bangkok, in order to serve the Southeast Asian market.
“This is absolutely not about taking jobs out of the United States,” Marc McAllister, a managing director of international sales at Harley-Davidson based in Singapore, told the New York Times. “This is about growing our business in Asia.”
The United Steelworkers (USW), which represents members at Harley’s plants in Wisconsin and Missouri, criticized the decision, saying it “puts in jeopardy one of the few remaining genuine U.S. brands.”
“Offshoring production is the wrong path to prosperity. It puts in jeopardy the success that has propelled Harley over the years: It is a brand of excellence that enables riders to confidently know that they are joining a special community of enthusiasts,” the union said in a statement. “Harley-Davidson should abandon their offshoring plans and expand their operations here in America.”
Recent workforce changes for Harley within the United States have included laying off 118 workers in York, Pa., and shifting work to its Kansas City, Mo. plant, and eliminating another 200 jobs, none of which were at the company’s Menomonee Falls facility. In 2015, the company did eliminate some jobs at the Menomonee Falls plant as part of cutting 250 jobs. This potential shift to Thailand could see more layoffs and job cuts as a result.
Harley has, however, been growing its international footprint. In response to some corporate confusion caused by President Trump’s mention of Harley-Davidson at his speech to the joint session of Congress, the company reiterated its commitment to growing its brand internationally.
“The biggest opportunity for Harley-Davidson, growth-wise, is in international markets,” said Katie Whitmore, Harley-Davidson spokeswoman.
International growth was a bright spot in Harley-Davidson’s 2016 financial results. In 2016, sales outside the U.S. grew 2.3 percent.
“The global competitive environment remains intense, but our 2016 results demonstrate that our increased investments to drive demand and bring impactful new products to market are working,” said Harley CEO Matt Levatich in a news release. “We are energized by our resolve to compete and win in the U.S. and in major international markets. Our market share performance gives us great confidence in the strength of our long-term strategy.”
Harley-Davidson and Levatich have been somewhat close with the Trump administration. In addition to visiting the president at the White House on Feb. 2, less than two weeks after Trump’s inauguration, Levatich has also said the company will ” continue to be involved” with the administration.