Officials with one of the biggest manufacturers in Conway has announced that the firm will be offering buyout packages and early retirement offers for employees.

Virco Manufacturing Corp., located on Highway 65, produces furniture for schools and has been a staple in the Conway community since it was founded in 1950. The company employ about 500 people and is one of the largest manufacturing employers for Conway.

Doug Virtue, executive vice president of the company, said that this decision has been painful and that the offers being made are a direct result of the slump the economy has faced across the nation.

“This is a very sad time for us, but this is the thing we had to do,” he said. “A lot of companies across the nation have been hit hard by the recession and it took about three or four years for our customers to feel the hit. We are offering early retirement for those close to retirement age and buyout packages for those that wish to find employment somewhere else. We felt like this was the most dignified and fair way to treat our employees rather than just having layoffs.”

Virtue said that he expects about 115 employees from the Conway division to be affected as well as 30 from the Torrance, California plant. He said that he feels like the employees have responded well to the news.

“We are obviously not happy about this situation but the response has been very favorable,” Virtue said. “We have many longtime employees that we consider to be family and we wish we had jobs for our people. We also wish the public school system was healthier for our customers. Among other things we want good jobs for our people who stay behind and have good quality furniture for our public schools that are delivered on time. With this option, we will be able to do both.”

Jamie Gates, senior vice president of the Conway Chamber of Commerce, said that the announcement is a clear sign of why a continued push for economic development is essential for the city.

“The Virco announcement brings home the point about why we have to be intentional on bringing new employment opportunities here,” he said. “Something that happens in the Los Angeles Unified School District can affect workers here in Conway, Arkansas. It is important that we continue to create jobs locally and continue to keep our foot on the pedal in regard to economic development.”

Gates said that officials with Virco have dealt with this decision in a positive way.

“Almost all American manufacturers have had to face a situation where layoffs were necessary, but when confronted with difficult economic circumstances, Virco officials got creative to avoid layoffs,” he said. “Virco has been an innovator and a solid business, we hope that as the economy recovers nationwide that we will see the same recovery here.”

Gates credits a lack of funding in public school budgets for the decline in Virco’s productivity as well as school officials going without needed products longer in an effort to save money.

A statement released by the company stated that Virco is also planning an extra two weeks of furloughs this fall and spring as other cost-saving measures.

(Candie Beck is a staff writer and can be reached at 505-1238 or at