Manufacturing is doing well in North Dakota

In North Dakota, the manufacturing sector has stayed strong even in spite of the recessional and economic problems that have plagued the industry in other parts of the country.

During the worst period of the recession, the Grand Forks firm Applied Products Inc. experienced something new: a drop in sales for the first time since it was started.

“We definitely felt the effect of that,” said Jon Fargo, engineering manager for the 16-year-old producer of truck bed covers. “Look at the number of pickups sold in that period.”

But since then, Applied Products has been growing by adding market share, creating new distribution networks and raising the profile of its Retrax brand of bed covers. This year, the company’s sales are up 25 percent to 30 percent over last year, Fargo said. It has added more than 20 employees over the last two years and is looking for four or five more.

While the industry has been doing well in North Dakota, it has seen its share of problems:

“There are positive things in our economy,” Thiessen said. “In light of the LM situation, which is significant.”

Thiessen was referring to the LM Wind Power’s September announcement that it would cut 345 employees, approximately half of its workforce. A few weeks later, Minnesota-based environmental company Ecolab announced that it would close its Grand Forks offices and eliminate close to 145 jobs here.

Even so, the growth of other companies in the region seems to have offset these losses.

But while companies like LM and Ecolab can be victims of the national economy, Thiessen said the numbers collected by the EDC show that the experience of most companies has been closer to that of Applied Products: growth through the economic doldrums. He expects that growth to continue if the national economy continues its modest growth.

“The smaller companies in our community slugged their way through that,” Thiessen said. “Now that it’s not trending down, we anticipate that growth to continue.”

The growth among companies probably is not noticed by most people in town since their business is not tied directly to the local economy.

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