Caterpillar Closing - 75 jobs will be lost by the end of year
By Pam Reinig
It’s only March but many area residents are already wondering what life will be like in December when one of area’s most visible employers closes its doors.
Caterpillar announced Friday morning that it would cease operations in Elkader by the end of the year, costing the town 75 jobs. Employees and community leaders were notified Thursday. The plant was closed Friday but reopened Monday with the expectation that operations would continue as usual until the manufacturer’s last day.
“Of course, we are sorry to hear that Caterpillar has made this decision,” said Elkader Mayor Josh Pope. “We believe that we have an excellent and reliable workforce that has created quality products for Caterpillar. We are extremely proud to have the only Caterpillar facility in Iowa, and because the facility was originally created by our own John Moyna, it holds a special place in our hearts. But we also understand that corporate Caterpillar has been struggling.”
Maker of heavy machinery primarily for farming and construction, Caterpillar has undergone several rounds of layoffs in recent years. In 2015, the company announced that it would cut 10,000 positions and close 20 facilities nationwide by 2018. The company indicated that the cuts and restructuring would save about $2 billion per year.
“Caterpillar knows this is difficult for its employees and their families but steps must be taken to position the company for long-term success,” said company spokesperson Janice Walters in a written statement about the Elkader closing. She confirmed that the local work would be moved to a facility in Wamego, KS, where 55 positions will be added to meet the increased workload.
“While we cannot guarantee placement for everyone, we will help employees identify open positions within the company and assist employees in applying for jobs within Caterpillar where they meet qualifications,” she wrote.
That would require relocation, of course.
Though the announcement caught most people off guard, there had been signs that the local plant was struggling. According to Elkader City Administrator Jennifer Cowsert, a year ago the city and the state put together an incentive package that they though would keep the company going for a few more years. If the incentive package wasn’t enough, that message was never conveyed to Cowsert.
“I don’t know if there was anything else we could’ve done,” she said, “but we would’ve appreciated being part of the conversation.”
Emily Yaddof, director of Elkader’s Economic Development Corporation, said the city and county hope to take steps in the coming months to deal with the closure. She said the main goals will be helping workers who lose their jobs find new ones in Clayton County and to find a business to fill the space now occupied by Caterpillar.
Caterpillar is not the only area plant closing its doors this year. Last summer, Commercial Vehicle Group, Inc. (CVG) announced the closure of its wire harness facility in Monona, which, at that time, employed over 140 people.
While March was originally thought to be the closing date, that’s now been pushed to June, said Monona Chamber and Economic Development (MCED) Executive Director Rogeta Halvorson at a Monona council meeting in January. She added that MCED has created a state listing for the CVG building, as well as a brochure, in hopes of selling it to a new user who will keep the staff. The building has drawn some interest, Halvorson noted.
CVG closed its Edgewood facility in June 2016, eliminating 60 jobs.
North Iowa Times Editor Audrey Posten contributed to this article.