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Bobcat to close Bismarck plant

BISMARCK - Bobcat Co., which makes small loaders and light construction equipment, announced Wednesday its Bismarck plant will be closed permanently and the bulk of the 475 jobs shifted to its plant in Gwinner in southeastern North Dakota.

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BISMARCK - Bobcat Co., which makes small loaders and light construction equipment, announced Wednesday its Bismarck plant will be closed permanently and the bulk of the 475 jobs shifted to its plant in Gwinner in southeastern North Dakota.

Rich Goldsbury, president of Bobcat Americas, said the move was spurred by 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."

The Bismarck plant was shuttered for the day on Wednesday. Workers were directed to the Bismarck Civic Center early in the morning, where they were told of the news.

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

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Separate unions represent workers at the Bismarck and Gwinner plants. Vogel said workers laid off earlier at the Gwinner plant will have first shot at the additional jobs there.

"They will get called back first," he said. He estimated only about 10 percent of the workers at the Bismarck plant would transfer to Gwinner. Officials from the unions did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment.

"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.

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.

Among the products the company makes are skid-steer loaders which are compact loaders typically used for smaller construction jobs.

Company spokeswoman Laura Ness Owens said 475 positions at the Bismarck plant will be phased out between October and December. She said about 390 of those positions will be switched to the Gwinner plant.

The move will be gradual, and is expected to be completed by the end of the year, Goldsbury said.

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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. Most of the layoffs involved hourly workers at the plant in Gwinner. In April, the company cut nearly 250 jobs at its two North Dakota plants. They were idled for part of June and July, when the company cited a slump in the construction equipment market.

South Korea's Doosan Infracore Co. 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 began production in 1974, and produced the only mini-excavator in North America, Goldsbury said. Plants in Gwinner and Bismarck have produced 932,000 machines since 1958, he said.

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Bobcat plans another news conference at 1:30 p.m. today in West Fargo.

The Herald and the Forum are both owned by Forum Communications Co. The article includes material from The Associated Press.

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