FARGO — As its North Dakota locations deal with hiring troubles, Butler Machinery is set to open three new facilities across the Midwest in an effort to get closer to customers and, hopefully, closer to new employees.
A brand new facility is in the works in Kearney, Nebraska, with Fargo-based Olaf Anderson Construction tabbed as the general contractor.
The new Kearney facility will house Butler Ag Equipment, the agricultural arm of the company, and significantly bolster Butler’s presence in Nebraska. The building will offer full parts and service areas in addition to sales offices. Currently, Butler Ag has three other Nebraska locations, in Chadron, Fremont and Pickrell, in addition to its existing Kearney location.
“Down in Kearney, we’ve had a really small rental facility down there that was really for our parts more than anything. We’re now building a brand new facility that will be 20,000-square-feet,” Butler CEO Twylah Blotsky said. “I know it’s a long way from Fargo, but for our Butler Ag operations, it’ll be another large facility and presence that we’ll have down in Nebraska.”
The highlight of the new Kearney store will be 11,000-square-feet of shop space. Overall, the Kearney location is expected to add several employees, including sales staff, a store manager, a service manager and eight to 10 technicians.
Two other facilities, one in Sidney, Montana, and a second in Watertown, South Dakota, are also in the works.
The Sidney location will be Butler’s first in Montana and will service customers both in the Big Sky State and western North Dakota. Butler Ag is set to take over the former B&B Rental and the location will not sell Caterpillar products, Blotsky reported. “It gave us an opportunity to come in there, pick up those lines and expand our presence both in western North Dakota and eastern Montana,” she said.
The new Watertown store will be a full-service Butler Ag and Butler Machinery location with sales, parts and service areas. It represents a growing market for Butler, Blotsky noted, and the new location will better service existing employees in the area.
“Watertown is a market which is growing rapidly for us and we currently have two technicians that are what we call resident technicians,” she said. “They live in Watertown, they have field-service trucks and they work remotely from their homes to take care of and support our customers. This facility will support them better with parts stocking and it’ll give them shop space to be able to work indoors.”
In total, Blotsky estimated the three new facilities would add 25 jobs to the company, some of which may be internal promotions which will need to be back-filled.
Like many other firms in the Fargo-Moorhead area, Butler has struggled with hiring woes during the pandemic as the region deals with a workforce shortage. It’s part of the reason behind Butler’s expansion outside of North Dakota, Blotsky said.
“That’s the driving point to it, just to get closer to the customer and be able to support them,” she said. “(We’re also) moving into markets where we can hopefully find new people and new talent who want to join our team at Butler.”
Hiring diesel technicians has been an issue company-wide for years, however, North Dakota notably lags behind other states in non-technical roles as Midwest transplants seem to be favoring Sioux Falls and Rapid City as opposed to Fargo, Bismarck and Grand Forks. “I would say that in a non-technical job, I seem to be feeling it worse in North Dakota than I am in others,” Blotsky said. “South Dakota seems to be drawing more people into their state recently that are moving out of other areas of the U.S. More so than I’m seeing in North Dakota.”
Blotsky said that while hiring has been “a battle day by day,” issues in North Dakota’s labor market existed prior to COVID-19. “I think that definitely every business is challenged to find good individuals to bring into the company, and it’s definitely been impacted by COVID,” she said. “We all know that we had a problem prior to COVID. We had a shortage of people in our state’s workforce.”
During her tenure as CEO, Blotsky added that Butler has worked to improve the company environment to attract and retain employees. Still, she said more needs to be done to bring employees into the state. “As a state, I hope we can continue to attract individuals into our state to join our workforce because a lot of companies are looking for good people,” she said.