AUBURN — Bisson Transportation is shutting down its Auburn-based long-haul trucking operation and heavy-duty truck center, laying off 38 truck drivers and 23 other workers, including mechanics and office workers.
Several workers lost their jobs this week. Others will be let go over the next two weeks.
Bisson President Bob Cooper said the company could not find enough owner-operator truck drivers to make the long-haul freight business work. It has about 38. It would need about 60 drivers to be "reasonably profitable," Cooper said.
"The recession of 2008 took a lot of capacity out," he said. "Truck drivers parked their rigs, went off and got into other business lines."
Now that the economy has picked up, owner-operators are in great demand, he said.
"We are a relatively small company and we can't offer the sorts of bonuses and other incentives that some of the big national companies are offering to hire these guys."
Though the business was too small to offer bonuses, it was too large to operate without overhead, infrastructure and support personnel, such as dispatchers and accountants, Cooper said. The operation did not have enough money coming in.
"In order to preserve the company, we had to stop the bleeding," Cooper said.
Bisson told workers of the closure this week. But because many of the truck drivers are out on the road, some had not yet been informed.
Bisson also owns Bisson Moving & Storage, Bisson Document Security and Bisson-I&R Commercial Services, which handles office moving and office furniture installation. Those divisions, all in Westbrook, will remain open. Bisson will also continue to offer freight brokerage, yard services for Maine paper mills and shuttle work between Maine paper mills and warehouses. Those parts of Bisson are doing well, Cooper said.
The company will shut down its long-haul trucking and heavy-duty truck center over the next two weeks. Cooper said he had heard from competitors looking to hire Bisson's truck drivers and mechanics.
"So this is not something that is going to create some economic upheaval (for those workers)," he said.
Three accountants, two safety/DOT workers, a service writer, a parts manager and a dispatcher will also lose their jobs.
Cooper called the layoffs "the hardest decision I've ever had to make. These were good people, many of them my good friends. I've never had to do this before," he said.
Bisson was founded in 1919. Cooper bought the business from the Bisson family in 1990.
In 2006, a Bisson partnership borrowed $100,000 in start-up capital from the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments and the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council, two publicly backed groups that provide loans for small and local businesses. It also borrowed $100,000 from Androscoggin Bank.
The money went toward building a 100,000-square-foot paper warehouse in Auburn. That warehouse was completed in 2008, but by that point the economy had faltered and its plans for the building fell apart. Bisson sold the building at a loss in 2009 and has been renting a portion of it for its trucking operation. Bisson continues to repay those start-up loans. Cooper said the closure would not affect the loan repayment.
In 2009, the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce presented the owners of Bisson Transportation with the President's Award for investing in Auburn and adding to the transportation segment of the local economy.