Nacogdoches manufacturer instrumental in saving Texas jobs

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Bright Coop owner Charles Bright began making wooden chicken coops over 60 years ago. Today the company manufactures metal coops, forklifts and trailers. What's consistent is he knows every step taken. "This is a low boy trailer and will probably end up in oil field," said Bright during a tour of the plant. He also knows each employee, over 100 during peak production. "Hi Paul," said Bright to a welder.  "Some of my employees have worked for me for 30, 40 years. I know most of them by their first name," Bright said.

The legacy nearly cratered. Less than 90 miles away at the Michael Unit at Tennessee Colony imported pre finished trailers were assembled by state prison labor. "It's stiff competition," notes Bright. Specifically, a $2,000 undercut in price. Enough to put trailer manufacturer, Lufkin Industries out of business. "Lufkin, you might say, just bit the dust," said Bright. Bright didn't want that to happen to his newly established Viking Trailers.

Bright and Lufkin industries got the support of Senator Robert Nichols. The Jacksonville Republican requested Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to review the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIE program). An official Attorney General informal opinion found that PIE is not operating within federal and state law. Nichols went to work. He asked Bright to testify, something he did as many as five times before legislative committees.  Bright noted his multi million dollar investments, while the state rented to facilities to an out of state company for, "One dollar. I said one dollar," stated the employer. The pay scale is significantly different too. Bright's employees make competitive wages. Prisoners are paid less than 80 cents an hour. "I'm for the program if it will help train the prisoners, give them something to do when they get out, but let's all get on the same playing ground," said Bright.

The man who shuns at the idea of retiring,  probably wouldn't have pursued his trailer division had he known of the prison industry contracts. He's no longer ignorant of the state competition. Now he's wanting to save other Texas manufacturers.

Legislation under development includes safeguards for existing Texas industries and more transparency in prison labor contracts. The bill could be kicked out of committee as early as this week.