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WDAY: The News Leader

Published September 02, 2009, 02:08 PM

Small ND town comes out ahead in Bobcat jobs

GWINNER, N.D. (AP) — Relief came to the southeastern North Dakota town of Gwinner when residents found out Wednesday that the area's largest employer would be adding workers and not subtracting.

By: DAVE KOLPACK, Associated Press

GWINNER, N.D. (AP) — Relief came to the southeastern North Dakota town of Gwinner when residents found out Wednesday that the area's largest employer would be adding workers and not subtracting.

The Bobcat Co., started in Gwinner more than 60 years ago by two brothers who wanted to help turkey farmers clean their barns, announced Wednesday it was shutting its plant in Bismarck. But many of the jobs are moving to Gwinner.

"It all began in a garage right over there," Gwinner city manager Jeff Anderson said as he pointed from Main Street. "Bobcat was born here. This is where it started. This is its home. If it's going to be somewhere, I would hope it was here."

Bobcat, which makes small loaders and other large construction equipment, said 390 Bismarck jobs are being moved to Gwinner, a town of about 790 people. The move comes about a month after the company laid off about 200 workers in Gwinner, Bismarck and at its West Fargo headquarters.

"People can relax a little bit now, at least short term," Anderson said.

Kay Wray, 65, and Robert Jordheim, 61, both of nearby Lisbon, relaxed over a late breakfast at Gwinner's Waloch Cafe after hearing the news. Wray's husband and two brothers retired from the Bobcat plant and her brother-in-law has put in more than 16 years. She also has a nephew who works for Bobcat in Bismarck.

"It's good for this area right now, but not good for the Bismarck area," she said. "I hate to see anyone lose their jobs."

Jordheim also called it good news for now, but said he still has some doubts about the company, which is owned by Doosan Infracore International, a subsidiary of South Korea-based Doosan Infracore.

"They can close this one up, too, and do what they want to do," he said.

Across the street, United Steelworkers Local 560 president Tom Ricker was on the phone with union leaders discussing what could be done about saving Bismarck jobs. He wasn't optimistic.

"When they said they were looking at every option, we didn't realize that one of the options they were looking at was closing Bismarck and moving those jobs here," Ricker said. "We're extremely disappointed."

The union contract calls for workers who were laid off to get first priority for new jobs, Ricker said. He said most have stayed around the area, hoping conditions would improve. He had only heard from one of them by noon Wednesday.

"I suppose of lot of them are kind of waiting until the dust settles. They realize I'm pretty busy today," Ricker said.

Anderson said Gwinner is ready for new residents, with many of its 80 apartment units vacant from the last round of layoffs and about 10 houses for sale. The town recently made infrastructure improvements and built a new golf course, he said.

"We're in a position where we can handle an influx of people," Anderson said.

Other area businesses agreed. Lexi Anderson, who works at the Overtime Bar, said many regulars have gone missing since the layoffs. Dale Johnson, who manages a scrap iron site in nearby Milnor, said Bobcat is by far its No. 1 customer.

"This is good for the community," Johnson said.

Anderson said he feels sorry for people in Bismarck, but he believes that area is large enough to absorb the layoffs.

"If that would happen here, it would cripple the whole area," he said.

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