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Twin Bridges, Montana

Casting jobs overseas?
Famous rod company ponders sending work to Chinese 

Story By Perry Backus of The Montana Standard
April 13, 2004 

RL Winston Rod Company has been producing solely American made products since 1929 and has been located in Twin Bridges, Montana since 1975. Due to increase in product demand the company is now looking to outsource some of it's production to China.    

Twin Bridges has always been a fisherman's paradise. Within a five-minute drive, a fisherman can cast into the Ruby, Beaverhead or the Big Hole rivers all of which have "Blue Ribbon" fame. And since 1975, fishing aficionados have made it a point to visit one of the last fishing rod building companies that could claim its product was American made. But those days could be coming to an end. 

Like so many other American companies, R.L. Winston Rod in Twin Bridges is considering sending some of its work overseas. The company may have Chinese workers build at least a portion of Winston's least expensive line of fishing rods the IBIS.

That pending decision is creating a stir.

According to the company's catalogue, the IBIS rod was introduced last year to offer "the more budget-conscious angler" the opportunity to fish with a Winston rod. The rods retail between $295 and $345.

R.L. Winston Rod is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. The company started in San Francisco and moved to Twin Bridges after Tom Morgan and Glenn Brackett became its owners. David Ondaatje purchased the company in 1991.

Management at the company told its employees recently it may outsource the IBIS line to China.

Winston Rods' President Woody Woodard said that while company hasn't made its final decision, there are reasons it's considering outsourcing the rod.

"Basically, we're out of capacity," Woodard said.

A new high-end fishing rod introduced last September has added demand "that's overwhelmed us," Woodard said. "There's also been a continued demand for the mid-priced IBIS rod it's more than we can handle."

Since September, Woodard said the company has increased its employment by 37 percent and "we still don't have enough capacity."

Those growing pains are why the company is considering moving some of its work overseas, he said.

Winston's story does not mirror the tales of other American companies that have chosen to close shops in this country to take advantage of cheaper labor overseas, said Woodard.

Woodard said there are no plans to move Winston Rod from Twin Bridges.

"If we were going to do that, we wouldn't have increased our workforce by 37 percent," he said. "There's no thought of that at all."

If the company decides to outsource the IBIS rods, it "absolutely will not take jobs away" from the Twin Bridges plant, he said.

In fact, Woodard said if the move actually increases the company's bottom line, it could mean additional funding for the Twin Bridges plant and its employees.

Winston Rod is tied to Montana and there's no thought of changing that, said Woodard.

"It's always been our goal to building the best rod in the world," said Woodard. "We believe we our rods are the Rolls Royce of the industry."

On the front of the 2004 Winston Rod catalogue is a photograph of man's weathered hands holding a Winston Rod. Across the front of his waders is a single word "Uncompromising." The back cover is signed by the 43 Winston employees under the statement: "Who to thank for making your Winston."

Winston's catalogue and Web site are filled with statements like: "A Winston is more than a fly rod. It is a commitment to doing things the right way. Without compromise," and "Yes, there are faster, cheaper and ultimately more profitable methods for making fly rods, but that is not the Winston way. We have no interest in being anything but the best."

Winston's employees echoed those sentiments in an open letter signed "Concerned Employees of R.L. Winston Rod."

"This outsourcing goes against everything that R.L. Winston stands for," said the letter. "We have been building rods in the United States for 75 years, and we plan to keep building them for the life of the company in the United States."

"We are one of the last fly-rod companies in the United States that does not outsource overseas," the letter said.

The decision to outsource compromises the integrity of the company, the employees said. At a recent meeting, the letter said the company's CEO told them workers in China would receive between 30 and 50 cents an hour.

"Not only are we opposed to this outsourcing, but then to send them to a country that has such human rights violations is inconceivable," the letter said. "We are now asking the owner of the company to step up and make the choice to keep all of our rods here, in Twin Bridges, Montana."

The letter said that Winston made a rod for the former President Bush's birthday last year.

"Would he have received that rod if it were made in China?" the letter asked. "We hope not."

"This outsourcing of America must stop. Large corporations and small companies all over the United States have been bleeding our country dry with this practice," said the letter. "We are asking the people of Montana and the rest of the United States to take a stand, and to know that we at R.L. Winston Rod will not go down without a fight."

Copyright Perry Backus and the Montana Standard, reproduced by permission.

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