Bobcat To Lay Off 195

FARGO, N.D. (AP) -- Bobcat Co., which makes skid-steer loaders and light construction equipment, announced Wednesday it will cut 195 jobs at its three North Dakota sites due to slow sales.

Most of the layoffs involved hourly workers at the plant in the small town of Gwinner, southwest of Fargo, and company officials said they hoped to call them back if the economy improves.

"The hourly folks were temporary reductions in our eyes," said Rich Goldsbury, president of Bobcat Americas. "That is our preference and our hope. But you can never project these things."

Tom Ricker, president of the United Steelworkers Local 560 in Gwinner, said he wasn't surprised by the move.

"I've been hearing a lot of positive things about the economy turning around, but I guess it's not showing that down in Gwinner," Ricker said. "We haven't seen any improvement in sales."

Bobcat had about 1,835 workers in North Dakota before the layoffs. Along with 138 of its approximately 1,000 workers in Gwinner, the company is laying off 28 of its approximately 650 workers in Bismarck and 29 of its 185 workers in West Fargo, where it is based.

Bobcat laid off about 250 workers were earlier this year and idled plants for part of June and July.

But the global recession lasted longer than expected and sales have remained slow, particularly among home builders, company officials said. Housing starts have dropped from more than 2 million in 2006 to about 500,000 this year, Goldsbury said.

"We initially thought we would see a modest recovery in the latter half of the year. That hasn't happened," he said.

Gwinner Mayor Dan McKeever said he wasn't surprised by Wednesday's announcement. The Gwinner plant produced about 180 machines a day three years ago, and now makes about 40 a day, he said.

"It doesn't take much to figure out they need to make some adjustments," McKeever said. "Hopefully, it's going to start turning around the other direction. Of course, we say that every time."

The news affects other small towns besides Gwinner, which has about 700 people, he said. Many of the plant workers come from surrounding areas.

"The plant is basically the economic anchor in southeast North Dakota," McKeever said.

Bobcat was started as Melroe Manufacturing more than 60 years ago by two brothers who ran a machine shop and wanted to help turkey farmers clean their barns. It is now owned by Doosan Infracore International, a subsidiary of South Korea-based Doosan Infracore. The company has a network of more than 3,500 dealers worldwide and 20 manufacturing plants in the U.S., Europe and China.

The Gwinner plant weathered similar layoffs in the 1980s, McKeever said.

Laura Ness Owens, a spokeswoman at the company's West Fargo office, said the recent layoffs have been difficult.

"These are our friends and family," Ness Owens said. "We fell pretty awful today about the decisions that have had to be made."

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