'A lot of chins hanging on the floor' after Bobcat announcement

BISMARCK (AP) -- Ron Vogel reported for his welding job Wednesday morning at the Bobcat Co. plant in Bismarck, and was told there would be an important announcement. His co-workers thought the company might talk about a temporary shutdown.

BISMARCK (AP) -- Ron Vogel reported for his welding job Wednesday morning at the Bobcat Co. plant in Bismarck, and was told there would be an important announcement. His co-workers thought the company might talk about a temporary shutdown.

Instead, they were told the Bismarck plant will close permanently by the end of the year with about 390 of its 475 jobs transferred to the company's plant in Gwinner, in southeastern North Dakota.

"There were a lot of chins hanging on the floor," said Vogel, who worked at the plant for 26 years.

Bobcat, which makes small loaders and light construction equipment, bills itself as North Dakota's largest manufacturer, getting its start from farmers who wanted to clean their turkey barns. Its Bismarck plant began production in 1974.

Rich Goldsbury, president of Bobcat Americas, said the Bismarck shutdown is due to a weak worldwide economy and sluggish sales for the West Fargo-based company.


"We are facing a huge economic challenge and we need to adapt," Goldsbury said. "We have to do what we have to do to maintain our viability. This is a global decision we've had to make."

Union officials expect few Bismarck workers to move to Gwinner, a town of about 790 people about 100 miles southwest of Fargo.

Tom Ricker, president of the United Steelworkers Local 560 in Gwinner, said the plant there has 240 workers who are laid off and would be offered the jobs first. He said the union has asked for a meeting with officials of Doosan Infracore Co., Bobcat's parent company, to try to persuade them to keep the Bismarck plant open.

"It's worth a shot," he said.

"I don't think it's sunk in yet -- it's pretty somber," said Jeremy Bauer, president of Steelworkers Local 566 in Bismarck, said of the plant closure.

Bauer said only a "small percentage" of Bismarck workers would land jobs in Gwinner.

"We have two separate contracts," Bauer said. "There's nothing binding that says we can go to Gwinner, and even if we did, we'd have to start there as brand new employees."

Bauer said the job losses would be felt across the state.


"This isn't just Bobcat -- it's every vendor that comes into Bobcat, it's retailer and the housing market," Bauer said.

Gov. John Hoeven said the state will help Bobcat workers.

"We will go to work to replace these jobs in Bismarck, looking to find other companies to come in," he said.

Sam Ude he likely would have to sell his home in Bismarck. He said he has worked as a welder at the plant since it opened 35 years ago, as have many of his co-workers.

"We're all in our 50's and we're not hirable," he said.

"I'm going to have to rely on my wife more, I guess," said Dave Kessel, a welder at the Bismarck plant for 35 years.

Company spokeswoman Laura Ness Owens said 475 positions at the Bismarck plant will be phased out between October and December. About 150 engineering, finance, accounts payable and equipment parts jobs at other facilities in Bismarck are unaffected by the plant shutdown, Goldsbury said.

The Gwinner plant is larger and will be able to handle the increased production, Goldsbury said. The building in Bismarck likely will be sold, he said.


Ness Owens said Bobcat will employ about 1,500 people after the Bismarck plant closure.

Last month, Bobcat cut 195 jobs at its three North Dakota sites, citing slow sales. It also made cuts earlier, and the plants were idled for part of June and July, when the company cited a slump in the construction equipment market.

South Korea's Doosan purchased Bobcat in 2007 from Bermuda-based Ingersoll-Rand Co. Ltd., in a deal worth $4.9 billion.

Doosan said the deal was the largest overseas acquisition in Korean history, and said it planned no changes in the North Dakota operation. The company said it has a network of more than 3,500 dealers worldwide and 20 manufacturing plants in the U.S., Europe and China.

Bobcat began more than 60 years ago as Melroe Manufacturing, making a skid-steer loader to clean turkey barns in southeastern North Dakota. Ingersoll-Rand bought Bobcat in 1995, from Clark Equipment Co.

The Bismarck plant produced the only mini-excavator in North America, Goldsbury said. Plants in Gwinner and Bismarck have produced 932,000 machines since 1958, he said.

Bobcat is the sole tenant of a multimillion-dollar shipping center in Bismarck that has been touted as a step toward global competition.

City Administrator Bill Wocken said $15.2 million has been spent on the Northern Plains Commerce Centre, mostly from an economic development fund supported by local sales tax money.


Bobcat moved into a warehouse in the complex 2006, signing a 50-year, $100,000-a-year lease for the space.

The center had a nearly $130,000 deficit in its first quarter, city officials said.

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