BISMARCK - Even a year ago, while Bobcat was making small implements in its Bismarck manufacturing facility, there was a lot of open space, said plant manager Dean Kuhn.
But since firing up a new production line for compact excavators earlier this year, a larger portion of the manufacturing floor is back in business, with the capacity to grow even further should demand warrant it.
On a Monday afternoon, workers could be seen hoisting engines into the belly of the half-assembled machines before pushing them down the line, where the cabs, excavator arm and other parts were attached.
Citing pressures from the global recession, Bobcat Co. shuttered excavator production at its Bismarck Manufacturing Support Center in 2009, cutting 475 jobs in Bismarck and moving about 275 of those to Gwinner, N.D.
In 2012, Bobcat announced plans for its Acceleration Center and the 50 jobs that came with it. The company's compact attachment production also moved to Bismarck at that time, adding about 200 positions.
Then, earlier this year, the excavators were brought back as a result of increased demand for the company's "next generation" line and a subsequent need for more production space to meet that demand.
"They were originally built here, and here they are again," Kuhn said.
The move opened more space in Gwinner for manufacturing of the company's compact loaders and skidsteers.
Kuhn said the move has been good for Bismarck and good for Bobcat.
Though not all of the 200 additional positions needed to run the new line have been filled, Kuhn said there has been interest in the jobs. There are enough employees to run the line for two shifts and production is meeting demand.
Having these jobs back in Bismarck has made a difference for those wanting to make their careers in the community.
"For students trying to pick a career path out of high school ... the word travels there are opportunities out there in the skilled trades and there are companies in the community that want to hire them," said Dave Mozingo, head of Bismarck State College's welding department. "There are a lot of students that want to stay here and it gives them an opportunity to make their home here."
Mozingo said he has five students working part time at Bobcat and about 20 former students employed there full time. He said it's a great place for entry-level welders to get their foot in the door with a decent company.
And now that the company is hiring directly, rather than through a staffing agency, the students are immediately receiving benefits and the pay scale has gone up, Mozingo said.
Bobcat has been to career fairs at BSC, said Chief College Relations Officer Marnie Piehl, and the company will make an appearance next week in the school's welding classes to tote its employment opportunities. Kuhn also is on the welding department's advisory board.
Mozingo said demand for welders has been steady, with interest from other companies such as Steffes, Trail King Industries and the boilermakers union, but he has noticed a steady increase in demand since Bobcat has ramped up production. He said the demand at Bobcat trickles down to other contractors that make things for the factory and also employ trade workers.
When the Bobcat facility is fully staffed, Kuhn said it will employ more than 600 employees.
Bobcat employs nearly 3,000 people statewide.