Employees at Wells Concrete production facility in Grand Forks were informed Wednesday, Oct. 30, that a large portion of the plant will close, with several dozen workers to be laid off.
The total number of workers to be laid off is about 92 people. The last day of work for those people is expected to be around the third week of December. Workers will be paid through the end of the year, according to the company. Some workers have been asked to stay on longer to help decommission the plant.
The layoffs primarily affect workers in what is called the “pre stress” and concrete products area of manufacture, making up what one executive from Wells Concrete calls the “lion’s share” of plant operations. Sales, drafting, engineering and ready mix operations will remain open.
“I would say that the decision was made two weeks ago, Tuesday,” said Wells President and CEO Dan Juntunen. “But I would say that really it has been something we have been struggling with for about two years. Just with so much of the North Dakota economy is tied to oil and agriculture, so it has been a little bit of a hit or miss issue for us for about two years."
Vice President for Corporate Development Sam Nesius echoed the CEO and said the company has been “wrestling” with the challenge of deciding to shutter the plant.
“Finally we had to make a decision on what our long-term goals are going to look like here,” he said, adding that the company will still be servicing its customers across North Dakota, Northern Minnesota and Montana.
Nesius said the company’s Minnesota facilities can meet its needs.
“We have too much capacity within our own pipeline, and all the work that we can contract, we can produce out of our three remaining facilities,” Nesius said.
The long-term economic outlook for the region, compared to the economic climate around Minneapolis, which makes up the southern portion of the company’s market, necessitated the decision to shut the bulk of the Grand Forks operation, according to Nesius.
“This was a very hard decision that we had to make, but one that needed to be executed,” he said.
According to Juntunen, Wells Concrete has positions open in other locations, meaning company workers without jobs in Grand Forks have the option to seek employment at those other branches, though he’s not sure how many will do that.
“We are doing our best to help people transition,” Juntunen said. “If people are open to opportunities in Albany (Minn.) or Denver, then we would try and help assist with that .... As of right now, we probably would have homes for virtually the majority. We have a really good employee base in Grand Forks, so it’s going to be more a function of who is willing to move and relocate.”
Wells Concrete is based in Albany, Minn., and has branches across Minnesota, North Dakota and Colorado. Sales offices are based in those states as well, with offices in Iowa and Manitoba, Canada.