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CNH Benson celebrates 50th anniversary

BENSON -- CNH Benson will celebrate its 50th anniversary today by opening its plant to the public.

From 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. today, the CNH Benson plant on U.S. Highway 12 will conduct tours, question-and-answer sessions about company machines and serve a lunch for guests.

CNH Benson, also known as the Case Tyler division of CNH in Benson, has been a premier manufacturer of agricultural equipment during its 50 years in Benson.

Since 2004, the company has specialized in the assembly of cotton pickers for Case IH agriculture, a brand of CNH Case New Holland. Four years ago, Case IH moved its cotton-picker production from a plant in East Moline, Ill., requiring Benson's plant to renovate its facility for the new project.

Dan Anderson, plant controller of CNH Benson, said the decision benefited the plant because cotton-picker production was a project that filled a slow time of the year for Benson's factory. Prior to cotton-picker production, the company specialized solely in self-propelled agriculture sprayers, floaters and tenders, which were seasonal products.

"That was a good fit for us," said Anderson, a 13-year employee of the plant. "It helped stabilize the production and kept us from some swings throughout the year that were driven by a more seasonal product."

Cotton-picker production also increased employment at CNH Benson from 275 workers in 2003 to 375 in 2008, according to Tribune archives.

Anderson said the plant is searching for more employees, and in particular, more welders and machinists.

"We're looking for workers and that isn't the typical climate for most businesses right now," Anderson said.

At the start of his career in Benson, Anderson said, construction of the Highway 12 plant was progressing. According to Tribune archives, the plant -- known as Tyler Manufacturing at the time -- underwent a $5 million expansion in 1995 before its 1998 acquisition by Case Corporation. The expansion allowed increased production of the self-propelled sprayers.

The plant continued to change, Anderson said, when Case Corporation merged with New Holland N.V. in 1999 to form CNH.

Throughout the corporate changes, Anderson said he's enjoyed watching the plant's products expand into foreign markets.

"We truly are global in terms of who we work with and where the products end up at," Anderson said.

In September, CNH signed a contract with a Chinese agriculture company to supply 40 cotton pickers built from the CNH Benson plant. According to archives, the contract was worth a reported $12 million.

Anderson said this year's shipment for that contract was produced and already sent to China.