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Kristen Daum, Published January 04 2010

Businesses in West Fargo look to bounce back in 2010

West Fargo’s manufacturing sector saw the loss of at least 225 jobs in 2009 – not including another 141 jobs expected to disappear this spring when the Smucker’s plant closes, as announced in December.

Despite this blow to one of West Fargo’s most integral industries, officials say there’s hope for 2010.

Several businesses that cut work forces this past year are now indicating they might add jobs back, starting within the first few months of the year. If so, it would be a boost to one of the city’s major areas of employment.

Job Service North Dakota’s employment figures for the Fargo metropolitan area show there were 7,931 manufacturing jobs at 210 companies during the second quarter of 2009.

That figure makes up 8 percent of the area’s work force – the fourth-highest group, according to the job service, which doesn’t distinguish its data between Fargo and West Fargo.

But in 2009, hundreds in West Fargo found themselves out of work after a series of cuts at the city’s locations of DMI Industries, Trail King Industries and Bobcat Co.

The layoffs were an effect of a national struggling economy, with the businesses facing decreased sales (as with DMI and Trail King), downsizing (as with Bobcat) or consolidating locations (as will be the case with the Smucker’s West Fargo plant, which closes April 30).

Yet some of these West Fargo businesses said they have reason to be optimistic, albeit cautiously, as they enter 2010.

“The encouraging news that’s happened in (recent) weeks, is we’re seeing a bigger spring flood of orders than we normally see,” said John Rust, manager of Trail King’s West Fargo plant.

Rust said the company could add back as many as 40 jobs within the next couple months to meet the demand.

Trail King’s sales for 2009 were down by 67 percent, compared to 2008. Rust said he expects 2010 sales to at least be steady with 2009.

But if the increased number of orders continues, Trail King’s 2010 sales might exceed initial expectations, Rust said.

“We’re trying to survive the storm of 2009, and at least, the sky appears to be brightening a little bit for 2010,” Rust said.

At DMI, company officials said they’re expecting moderate improvement in 2010, with an even better recovery anticipated the year after.

“The activity we’re seeing is that the money is freeing up for the developers and things are starting to happen,” said Belinda Forknell, DMI spokeswoman. “But it has to trickle down.”

DMI cut 160 jobs during two unanticipated layoffs in 2009. Forknell said she expects DMI will add some jobs back, but it will be “steady and gradual,” as opposed to all at once.

Meanwhile, Bobcat Co. doesn’t expect any changes at its corporate headquarters in West Fargo, where 29 jobs were eliminated.

“We don’t see our operation in West Fargo changing,” Bobcat spokesman Jeff White said.

Bobcat’s layoffs in West Fargo were part of deeper cuts at the Bismarck location, where 475 jobs were lost in 2009.

As planned, White said, 390 jobs are expected to be added to Bobcat’s facilities in southeastern North Dakota in 2010.

“We are proceeding cautiously,” White said. “We believe the economy is stabilizing, but we feel we should continue to exercise patience as we await the full economic rebound.”

Although the loss of jobs is disappointing, Mayor Rich Mattern said West Fargo should consider itself lucky compared to other communities nationwide that face much more severe unemployment problems.

“It could have been a heck of a lot worse,” Mattern said. “We just have to count our blessings on that.”

Major 2009 job cuts in West Fargo

Source: Forum archives

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541