When Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson heard recently that Hillerich & Bradsby Co. might move its Powerbilt golf-club manufacturing division from Southern Indiana to New York, he immediately telephoned Jack Hillerich, the company’s president.
Hillerich assured Abramson that the company has no such plans.
That same day, Hillerich denied another rumor to a reporter; this one had H & B shipping its area golf division off to Canada, where the company already has a factory that makes golf clubs for the Canadian and British markets.
It’s probably no coincidence that both rumors surfaced at a time when H & B is considering moving its baseball-bat factory to the Louisville riverfront after nearly 20 years at its current site near Jeffersonville, according to Bill Williams, the company’s vice president of advertising and promotional sales.
Talk of the proposed consolidation of H & B’s bat-making operation with its corporate office and a baseball museum in Louisville usually doesn’t mention the golf division — which makes both irons and persimmon woods, and shares space with bat-making operations at Slugger Park.
“Some people feel that topic is conspicuous by its absence,” Williams said from H & B’s corporate office, which never did leave Louisville.
But there is good reason for the silence. “We simply don’t have a direction” yet on what will happen to the golf plant, Williams said.
He acknowledged that the lack of information is probably the reason there are so many rumors.
Hillerich – who has stressed that the possible move depends on the outcome of an economic feasibility study – could not be reached for comment.
He was in New York state – visiting the company’s timber mills there, Williams added.
It’s not uncommon for H & B’s Powerbilt golf label to be overshadowed by the Louisville Slugger name, according to Williams.
But that fact has more to do with the bat’s legendary status and continuing popularity with major-league stars than with current economic reality.
Golf-club sales generate about 30 percent of the company’s revenues – compared to just 13 percent brought in by sales of wooden bats made at Slugger Park.
Sales of usssa slowpitch softball bats – which the company makes at a plant in California – account for another 30 percent. The rest is divided between baseball gloves, hockey sticks and timber operations.
And 101 out of 192 jobs at the Slugger Park plant are devoted to the golf division – although Williams declined to estimate how much space in the 270,000-square-foot plant is used by each operation.
Hillerich has said recently that much of the space is not needed at all.
The proposed move raises legitimate questions about the golf division’s future in the Louisville area – especially since Hillerich has said that H & B would likely sell its Southern Indiana property to help pay for the proposed relocation.
That would appear to rule out staying put as an option, unless the company were able to lease space back from the plant’s eventual buyer.
And, according to Williams, the company doesn’t know yet whether it would make economic sense to split the two operations at all.
Jim Tennill, a Louisville stockbroker and head of a non-profit corporation formed early last year to facilitate the company’s move back to Louisville, said he believes there’s plenty of room in the waterfront redevelopment area for a complex that would house all of H & B’s operations – including the golf plant.
But he said the group, called Waterfront Sports Project Inc., has purposely avoided discussion of the golf issue in order to keep its focus on baseball – and the proposed baseball museum.
Tennill said the planned feasibility study – designed to determine the cost of the overall project – would likely also help H & B decide what to do about the golf operation.
The City of Louisville has offered to help the company pay for the study, and members of Tennill’s group were scheduled to meet with city officials May 16 (after Business First’s press time) to iron out details.
Tennill estimated the study will cost less than $50,000, and he said the group hopes to have it completed “in 60 to 90 days.”