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Heidi Shaffer, Published July 01 2010

Bobcat brings boost to region with 100 planned hires

Area leaders and manufacturers are hopeful that 100 new jobs at the Bobcat plant in Gwinner, N.D., are an indication of better times ahead.

“Bobcat is the economic anchor of this entire area,” said Gwinner Mayor Dan McKeever.

The success of many manufacturers in the southeastern region of North Dakota is dependent on Bobcat, so when the Gwinner plant laid off about 240 employees from 2008 to 2009, those businesses also felt it, McKeever said.

“When they were going through the economic challenges a year ago, (our) factories struggled, too, so this is a big thing for our area,” he said of Wednesday’s announcement that Bobcat will add 100 hourly positions between now and August.

Bobcat closed its Bismarck plant and consolidated the majority of North Dakota manufacturing operations in Gwinner late last year as a result of decreased demand for products across the industry.

“It has always been our plan to build the Gwinner work force as we saw an increase in demand for our products,” Bobcat Americas President Rich Goldsbury said in a statement.

All North American-produced machines are now being made in Gwinner, which was the original Melroe Manufacturing Co. plant and home to the first production compact loader in 1958.

The Gwinner plant has replaced jobs lost through layoffs and since added another 150 jobs to this town of about 700 people.

Ray-Mac Inc. in Gwinner, which does custom manufacturing for Bobcat, employs about 45 people, down from about 60 before Bobcat’s layoffs started in 2008.

“Their success is tied directly to ours,” said Chris McFarland, quality manager at Ray-Mac.

McFarland said he’s optimistic about what the new positions at Bobcat might mean for Ray-Mac.

Lisbon, 15 miles north of Gwinner, also gets a boost if Bobcat is hiring. Many residents work at Bobcat, and the town of 2,200 is home to several businesses that make parts for the company, Mayor Ross Cole said.

“It’s nice to have more people and good-paying jobs,” he said. “It’s good for the economy.”

Supplying wire harnesses for Bobcat is a significant part of operations for Fargo Assembly’s Lisbon plant. Cuts last year at Bobcat led to layoffs at their plant, which today employs about 75 people, but the new positions are a good sign, said Herb Siemens, Fargo Assembly’s senior vice president.

Today, Bobcat employs more than 1,700 people, with about 75 percent of that work force in Gwinner.

That figure is down from 2,600 in 2007, but business is growing, said Laura Ness Owens, public relations manager for Bobcat, which is headquartered in West Fargo.

“In order to meet customer demand, we are adding employees, but we’re making sure we hire sustainable positions,” Ness Owens said.

Gwinner has gone through a number of changes with each economic downturn in the past decade, McKeever said. There are a number of houses for sale, and he’s hopeful that this latest round of hiring will start to again bolster the market.

“The areas in the community are ready for it. We just don’t know what’s to come, but hopefully this is a sign that it’s starting,” McKeever said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511