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September 30, 2010

Polaris Rebounds Strong




By Ryan Bakken

Grand Forks Herald

 

Polaris Industries in Roseau, Minn., has added 400 employees since April. And the manufacturer of recreational vehicles isn’t done hiring yet.

 

“We’re up to about 1,500 employees now in Roseau, and we’ll probably be hiring another 50 to 75 people before the end of the year,” said Marlys Knutson, company spokeswoman.

 

The need for more workers is shown in the publicly traded company’s quarterly reports.

 

In the first quarter of this year, sales grew 16 percent to $362 million and net income was up 127 percent from the first quarter of 2009. The second quarter, ending in June, showed increases in sales of 25 percent to $432 million and net income of 42 percent.

 

“If anyone wants work in the northwestern corner, they can find it,” said Nate Dorr, regional analyst with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

 

“Digi-Key (of Thief River Falls) also is hiring like crazy. That corner is much more insulated from the recession than the Twin Cities.”

 

Four-Wheelers Reign

 

Although the company started as a snowmobile manufacturer, off-road vehicles are now its bread and butter.

 

In the Roseau plant, only one line, operating one eight-hour shift, makes snowmobiles. In comparison, there are four lines, each operating two eight-hour shifts, making ATVs, RZR products and mid-size Rangers.

 

Polaris also has a plant in Spirit Lake, IA,that makes the full-sized Ranger and also a Bobcat line.

 

The activity is in sharp contrast to early 2009 when the company was hit hard by the recession. In January of 2009, Polaris laid off 110 workers in Roseau.

 

“We started stepping out of it later in the first quarter this year and it’s still going strong in the third quarter,” Knutson said.

 

The pace of the turnaround is somewhat surprising because much of the country and world is still feeling recession fallout. And Polaris products are used mostly for recreation, thus more luxury than necessity.

 

“Our growth is mostly due to product innovation,” Knutson said. “We’ve added new technology and new features that consumers want.

 

“A lot have dual usage, for work and play. But they’re more for farming and hunting than business and industrial. With the hunting season coming up, we expect more (success).”

 

Dorr cites the popularity of the side-by-side Ranger is a big factor. “Agriculture remains strong (economically) and the four-wheelers are used all over in agriculture,” Dorr said. “And the side-by-side makes it easier for older people to ride.”

 

More Full-Timers

 

Knutson said about 40 of this year’s hires are for year-round jobs. An estimated 50 more will become year-round jobs before the end of the year, she said. Polaris plans $6 million of improvements in its plant, she said.

 

But growth in jobs and production aren’t everywhere in northern Minnesota, Dorr said. Bemidji, Brainerd and Grand Rapids are cities that depend on wood products for their economies.

 

“The housing slowdown and credit crunch has trickled down to manufacturers,” he said. “Those three are among the hardest-hit cities in the state.”

 

Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or send e-mail to rbakken@gfherald.com.



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