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Digi-Key to drive new workers to work

GRAND FORKS -- "Leave the driving to us" was a longtime slogan of the Greyhound Lines bus company. Recently, Digi-Key has adopted a version of that slogan as a pitch to attract employees.

The electronic components distributor based in Thief River Falls, Minn., has about 2,400 workers. However, its business is growing faster than its labor force.

The company's latest strategy includes recruiting workers in Crookston, Minn., throwing in low-priced bus service to the Thief River Falls workplace as an incentive.

The company's bus service would cost workers $2 per day, considerably less than the price of gas for the 90-mile round trip.

"It's a creative approach that we're hoping will get us some traction in tapping a good labor market in the Crookston area," said Rick Trontvet, a Digi-Key vice president.

"If we get some success out of the idea, we'll maybe do it in some other labor markets as well," he said.

Crookston is targeted, he said, because its population of about 8,000 is only 45 minutes away. Going south for employees also makes sense because many of northwestern Minnesota's major employers are in Thief River Falls and north.

They include Arctic Cat of Thief River Falls, Polaris Industries in Roseau, Central Boiler in Greenbush and Marvin Windows in Warroad. Several of those employers say they are also looking for more workers, though they aren't necessarily using any unconventional incentives like Digi-Key.

Other incentives

"The big thing is that Crookston has some population mass," Trontvet said. "Where there is a concentration of the population, there are a lot of people who can ponder working here, especially with the bus."

Karena Cymbaluk of rural Crookston has worked at Digi-Key for almost two years, so she wouldn't be eligible for the bus commute. But she understands the perk's attraction.

"It would be awesome on its own, not to mention that I would go from spending $50 a week on gas to $8 a week," she said. "That's a huge chunk.

"Hopefully, eventually they will expand on it."

Crookston-area job recruits will have a four-day workweek, likely another incentive. The plan is for them to work 10-hour days, Monday through Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., with an emphasis on serving the overseas market.

"In particular, international sales are really taking off, so we need more people in our distribution area during that time frame," Trontvet said.

Distribution workers, who work in the warehouse picking, packing and shipping the products, receive $13.68 per hour, plus health plan benefits.

Digi-Key's hope, Trontvet said, is to have 150 more employees by the end of the year than it has now. Accounting for attrition, 300 to 400 hires would be needed, he said.

Marvin Windows

Marvin Windows, too, is looking for more workers after several years of reduced hours for its employees.

John Kirchner, Marvin's spokesman, said the windows manufacturer is looking for an additional 100 to 150 full-time employees for its Warroad factory for the summer and fall and about 100 temporary summer employees. It currently has about 2,000 employees in the Warroad plant.

"Even in good times, we typically have had 32-hour workweeks in the winter," Kirchner said. "But since 2009, the 32-hour weeks have been extended longer.

"But we're back to 40 hours now and hopeful that we'll need more employees come summer and fall because we've seen improvement in the housing market. A rising tide lifts all boats."

The company also is looking for an additional 80 full-time employees at its Fargo plant and about 40 at its Grafton facility, he said.

Marvin has not deployed any outside-the-box strategies in its employer search, but is "confident we can find enough folks by traditional means," Kirchner said.

Central Boiler

Central Boiler, the wood-burning furnace manufacturer, is seeking employees in professional specialty areas such as engineering and marketing, but does not anticipate a big demand for production labor jobs yet, said owner Dennis Brazier.

That may change in July, however, when his company will add production of zero-turn lawn mowers under the brand name of Altoz. He anticipates adding about 100 jobs in the first few years of production, but said the lawn mowers' long-term potential is greater than the furnace component, which requires 200 workers.

"The lawn mower production would be off-season from the boilers, so it would do for us what ATVs have done for snowmobile manufacturers," Brazier said.


Polaris would hire 90 people immediately if they were available, said Brian Gunnell, the human resources manager at the manufacturer of snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles. However, he said, that task becomes more difficult with Marvin's back in the market.

"Marvin's going to reduced shifts caused some folks to come over and work for us," Gunnell said. "We've had the luxury of not having to compete with them for workers at times.

"The fact that Marvin's is (hiring more people now) is a little unnerving because we're looking at the same labor force they are," he said.

Polaris has about 1,800 employees in Roseau. Most openings are for hourly employees who would work in assembly, manufacturing and skilled trades.

Phone messages left at Arctic Cat's human resources department in Thief River Falls were not returned.