A fresh coat of paint is one outward sign of the progress being made inside Bobcat’s manufacturing plant.
“Demand (for products) has been and has even exceeded in some areas what we expected,” said Laura Ness Owens, public relations manager for Bobcat.
Bobcat announced in April the ramping up of production at its Manufacturing Support Center at 530 S. 26th St. The plant houses Bobcat’s partner, Menlo Worldwide Logistics. Menlo produces Bobcat’s compact attachments, which include things like scoops, snowblowers and augers.
Bobcat laid off 475 workers from the Bismarck manufacturing plant in December 2009. When the Bismarck plant closed, 275 manufacturing jobs were moved to the company's Gwinner plant.
“When it (the plant) sat empty for a couple years things tend to build up,” Ness Owens said.
Ness Owens says the building was refurbished when it was put up for sale and again after the April announcement.
Improvements like new lighting and upgraded equipment were made.
The move back to Bismarck was sparked by increased demand for compact attachments. Brett Wittmayer, Bismarck site manager for Menlo, said the company had originally planned to hire 150 employees. With higher than expected demand the company hired 200 employees and still has about a dozen job openings. The plant runs all day, every day, to keep up.
Wittmayer said the positions are an assortment of manufacturing, warehouse and assembly jobs. He said the wages are “competitive for the area” and vary by required skill set and shifts worked.
“We were pretty pleased with the hiring process,” he said. “We ramped up a faster than we thought we would and our retention has been good.”
Some previous Bobcat employees have come back to work for Menlo but Wittmayer said the employees are mostly new.
“If you look back to 2009-2010, a lot of people were choosing not to replace power equipment” which is what was built at the Bismarck plant originally," Ness Owens said.
The market for skidsteers and other equipment is returning but is not as strong as demand for attachments, Ness Owens said. She said business owners have been deciding to buy implements to add different services rather than buying new machines.
Ness Owens said the attachments in highest demand are construction and landscaping tools, followed by snow management attachments.
Menlo employed 180 people at the Manufacturing Support Center before hiring an additional 200 this past year. With the added positions, Bobcat and Menlo will jointly employ more than 500 people in Bismarck.
Bobcat also will be expanding and renovating its facility at the Northern Plains Commerce Centre, turning it into an Innovation Center, Ness Owens said.
The Innovation Center renovations will include the addition of offices as well as space to do product design and testing. The company will build a 50,000-square-foot indoor arena and a 5-acre outdoor operation area.
The expansion will cost $8 million to $10 million. It will begin this year and will be completed in stages through 2014.