While some businesses have struggled or even closed shop during the past year of the coronavirus pandemic, Doosan Bobcat has expanded.
In particular, it expanded its production facility in Littlefield, Minn.
The $26 million expansion project nearly tripled the size of the facility that was originally built in the 1990s. It went from 70,000 square feet to 200,000 square feet, said Doosan Bobcat North American President Mike Ballweber.
The added space -- a multi-month project that started in September 2019 and was completed in January -- means more production capacity and more employees.
The company is now seeking to fill more than 100 jobs at the expanded plant, Ballweber said, noting the hiring of new employees will be done in a phased approach through 2021. The Litchfield plant now has 140 employees, but by the end of the year plans to grow that number to more than 250.
He said production jobs currently being added include assembler, fabricator, material handler and welder positions.
“Our business is growing and we love the fact that we're able to bring more job opportunities and more development for a lot of communities in Minnesota,” Ballweber said.
The Litchfield facility produces more than 250 unique attachments to equip Bobcat machines for specific tasks. According to information from the company, the expansion adds new assembly lines and upgrades, conveyor systems, a new paint line, and climate control systems, all designed to add efficiency and provide additional manufacturing capabilities to meet the growing customer demand for Bobcat products.
Ballweber said he feels for those companies that have struggled over the past year of the pandemic, but is excited about the direction his company is headed.
“Ag is actually starting to come back in the US and in the upper Midwest and that's been a benefit,” he said. “A lot of equipment goes into rental companies and those businesses are starting to go up for a lot of the same reasons: people doing projects. And so, really, a lot of the markets that we hit are growing.”
He said even on large infrastructure construction projects that typically tend to use larger equipment, Bobcat equipment shows up on the job site for smaller jobs.
Ballweber said he knows it might be a challenge to fill so many positions by the end of the year, but it’s a challenge his team is ready to meet. They already have conducted labor studies of the Litchfield and surrounding areas; for instance, how large of a radius from which to draw people.
“After that we look at what the population is in that area. And if you dig a little deeper you start to analyze what skill sets are available, how many trade schools are in the area,” he said. “We did a lot of that and think we have enough of a radius that we can attract people.
“But it's obviously a really tough job market right now, for us and for a lot of other industries, and so we have to make sure we're competitive in the area and doing all those things that attract people. We're confident we can get them, but we know it's going to be a challenge because of the tough job market right now in general, trying to find people.
“We’ve done a lot of traveling around the whole US this past couple of weeks and everywhere we went there were help wanted signs.”
Ballweber said despite the challenges, the future looks bright for Doosan Bobcat and its plant in Litchfield.
Projects in other markets include an investment of $11 million in Statesville, N.C., and a commitment of $6 million in facility and manufacturing enhancements in Johnson Creek, Wis.
“We are experiencing significant opportunities in Litchfield,” Mike Kiefer, Litchfield site operations manager at Doosan Bobcat, said in a statement that was sent to Prairie Business. “We are excited about the growth and the chance to expand our workforce.”