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Lund Boats bringing light manufacturing facility to Willmar

A new manufacturing facility for Brunswick Corporation, which manufactures Lund Boats, will work in conjunction with the company's New York Mills manufacturing facility. The company is bringing a small part of its operation to Willmar to alleviate a labor shortage in its main location.

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Brunswick Corporation is planning to open a light manufacturing facility in the building it is leasing at 350 45th St. N.W. in Willmar. The move is to help alleviate a labor shortage the Lund Boat manufacturer is having in its current location in New York Mills. This facility will work in conjunction with its facility in New York Mills.
Jennifer Kotila / West Central Tribune
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WILLMAR — A tight labor market in a small community about 100 miles north of Willmar led to a creative solution for Brunswick Corporation, which manufactures Lund Boats.

New York Mills is a city of approximately 1,300 people, and the Lund Boat manufacturing facility in that city employs 600 people, according to Brian Hines, vice president of operations for Lund Boats.

“So, as you can imagine, it's very difficult to hire up there, so we have been looking for ways to sort of get away from our labor market a little bit and get to a strong labor market, which Willmar is,” Hines explained to the city of Willmar’s Planning Commission at its meeting Wednesday. The commission was hearing the preliminary plan for the manufacturing facility that will be located in a leased building at 350 45th St. N.W.

Lund Boats plans to employ 30 to 35 local people at the manufacturing facility through a contract with AgJobs, according to Hines.

“Most of their employees are Spanish-speaking employees, so they will also provide us with some (human resources) support and supervision support, and also, just an ability to bus people in,” Hines said.

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While some employees will drive themselves and organize their own car pools, transportation in the form of a van or small bus will be coordinated between AgJobs and Lund Boats for those who need it. Workers can also utilize Central Community Transit, the local public transportation.

The new employees are currently being trained in New York Mills, and Lund Boats plans to have them working in the Willmar facility at the end of June or early July.

All materials, such as wood, aluminum, carpet, and vinyl, will be cut in New York Mills, then trucked to Willmar for gluing operations. Those items will then be packaged back up into boat kits, and sent back to New York Mills for assembly.

“Essentially what it does is it gets us 30 more people not in our own backyard,” Hines stated. “It is far enough away that it is out of our labor market, but close enough that it is pretty easy. I mean, if I have an emergency run of parts, I can throw it in a pickup and get it here within a couple of hours.”

Many New York Mills-based employees have been working overtime since demand for boats has risen, according to an announcement about the new facility made by Lenn Scholz, president of Lund Boats, at a meeting with New York Mills Civic and Commerce members on March 29. That demand, along with other factors including COVID-19, supply shortages, weather and a hiring shortage, left the company with more than 40 open positions.

"We have a great and highly skilled workforce in our current location in New York Mills, and we are continuing to grow there," Hines said, noting how much Brunswick values and appreciates its current employees. "We are just looking for ways to expand into a close location like Willmar to supplement our growth in an area that has the resources to support it even faster."

Potential delays

The Willmar building in which the manufacturing will take place was annexed into the city in January 2021, and the city is working on a plan to extend city sewer and water through the annexation, according to Planning and Development Director Justice Walker.

Although there will not be any changes to the exterior of the building, a survey may be needed and it does not currently meet the city’s zoning requirements for setbacks and parking spaces, Walker said. The city also requires buildings of that size to have a sprinkler system for fire suppression.

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It is unknown how long it will take for a survey to be completed, and Hines noted the lack of parking should not be an issue. Many of the employees who will be working at the facility will carpool or be bused to the facility.

He also explained that the parking lot at the building currently has a large area for trucks to turn around, so that will not be a problem for the loading, unloading and transportation of materials. Lund Boats plans to use soft-sided trailers in order to be able to park the truck alongside the building and load materials from the side.

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Although parking space is limited at the light manufacturing facility being leased by Brunswick Corporation to assist in its manufacturing of Lund Boats, there is a large space at the back of the building for the turnaround of semitractor-trailers that will be hauling material between Willmar and the New York Mills facility.
Jennifer Kotila / West Central Tribune

Hines explained the company is doing some remodeling to the interior of the facility to upgrade the restroom and breakroom areas. There will be very little water usage at the facility, aside from toilets and sinks. Lund Boats plans to provide bottled water for the employees.

The company has budgeted to install a sprinkler system, Hines added. However, it would like to wait until city water and sewer is run through the area before installation of the sprinkler system. If that is not an option, a giant water holding tank would have to be installed with a jockey pump.

Walker noted that he and the city’s fire chief walked through the facility and the fire chief was OK with the sprinkler system not being installed until city water is available to the building in light of Lund Boats' risk management plan for fire.

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This leased building located at 350 45th St. N.W. in Willmar will be used as a light manufacturing facility for Brunswick Corporation, which constructs Lund Boats.
Jennifer Kotila / West Central Tribune

The Planning Commission questioned whether the state Fire Marshal's office also would be OK with the company’s risk management plan and no sprinkler system in place right away; that answer was not known by anyone present at the meeting.

Hines noted that there are Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements for the storage of flammable materials, and the adhesives used by the manufacturer will be stored in fire cabinets. There will be only a day or two’s worth of material stored at the facility, he added.

Jennifer Kotila is a reporter for West Central Tribune of Willmar, Minnesota. She focuses on local government, specifically the City of Willmar, and business.

She can be reached via email at: jkotila@wctrib.com or phone at 320-214-4339.
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