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Bobcat announces nearly 200 layoffs in North Dakota; some cuts made at Litchfield plant

Bobcat Co. said this afternoon that it has laid off 195 salaried and hourly employees in North Dakota and also some jobs cuts at the company's Minnesota facility in Litchfield.

The cuts announced Wednesday -- which come after the loss of 250 Bobcat jobs in North Dakota earlier this year -- fuel concern that Bobcat ultimately could shift jobs from the state to its plant in the Czech Republic.

Rich Goldsbury, president of Bobcat Americas, said the company is committed to North Dakota, although it can't make any promises about its future staffing in the state.

Bobcat said Wednesday afternoon that it is eliminating 195 salaried and hourly employees in North Dakota.

"The challenging economy continues to affect sales levels. Earlier this year, indicators pointed to a turnaround in the fall of 2009, but the global recession has lasted much longer than anticipated," Goldsbury said.

The company says some of the cuts are permanent and some are temporary, said Laura Ness Owens, the company's public relations manager.

The company didn't provide a breakdown on how many cuts are permanent and how many are temporary.

But the cuts include:

- 138 positions in Gwinner, where Bobcat has had a work force of 1,000

- 28 positions in Bismarck, where the company has had 650 employees

- 29 jobs in West Fargo, where Bobcat has had a work force of 185.

No figures were released concerning the number of job cuts in Litchfield.

Bobcat, which produces skidsteer loaders and light construction equipment at plants in Gwinner and Bismarck, will have about 1,640 employees in the state after Wednesday's cuts.

A small number of Bobcat employees also were cut at the company's Litchfield plant, Owens and Goldsbury said.

They didn't have a specific number.

Wednesday's cuts were somewhat surprising because some economists have seen signs that the U.S. economy is improving, said Tom Ricker, president of United Steelworkers Local 560 in Gwinner.

Goldsbury said Bobcat is anxious to increase its work force when sales warrant.

For that to happen, "the psychology of our customers needs to improve," he said.

There's speculation in Gwinner, population 750, that some lost North Dakota Bobcat jobs might never return to the state, shifting instead to the Czech Republic, said Jeff Anderson, Gwinner city auditor.

He said he isn't worried personally because of the high quality of Bobcat products made in North Dakota.

Bobcat opened a plant and training center at Dobris, Czech Republic, near the capital of Prague, in 2007.

The facility cost about $32 million, according to published reports.

Bobcat's ties to the Czech Republic began with its former owner Ingersoll Rand, which bought Bobcat in 1995 and sold it in 2007 to Doosan Infracore of South Korea.

Ingersoll Rand bought Superstav, a backhoe manufacturer in the Czech Republic, in 2001.

Bobcat sells its products worldwide, including in Europe, and having a plant there is logical, Goldsbury said.

"Our products are heavy," he said.

It makes sense for global equipment companies to manufacture their products close to the markets in which they'll be sold, said Rod Sutton, editor-in-chief of Oak Brook, Ill.-based Construction Equipment magazine, an industry trade publication.

Doosan Infacore is South Korea's largest maker of construction equipment and has dealers and manufacturing plants worldwide, according to the company's Web site.

Sutton said virtually all equipment companies are suffering because the economy is bad worldwide, not just in the United States.

Anderson said Wednesday's news of more job losses in Gwinner is disappointing.

Even so, "the (plant's) doors are still open. It's still producing Bobcats," he said.