By Ann Bailey
THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. – While COVID-19 has caused economic woes in many parts of the country, it has been a boon to sales of Arctic Cat products, company representatives told U.S. Rep. Michelle Fischbach during a Tuesday, Feb. 16, tour of the manufacturing plant in Thief River Falls.
Fischbach, a Republican who represents Minnesota’s District 7, was in Thief River Falls Tuesday to talk to executives at Arctic Cat and DigiKey and tour their plants.
The demand for products made at the Thief River Falls Arctic Cat manufacturing plant – the products include snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles and side-by-sides – is strong, and the company has had to increase production to keep up with it, said Gunnar Kleveland, president and CEO of Textron Specialized Vehicles, the parent company of Arctic Cat.
When Arctic Cat shut down for two months in spring 2020 the company discovered that demand for its products was not ceasing. Instead, it was increasing, Kleveland.
“People want to be outside, they want to use our products,” Kleveland told Fischbach. “We are increasing our production.”
Arctic Cat needs to hire more employees to meet production demands, said Troy Halvorson, Arctic Cat vice president. The company has openings for upwards of 100 to 150 employees to add its team of 613 at the Thief River Falls manufacturing plant, he said.
“If you don’t have a job in Thief River Falls, it’s because you don’t want one,” Kleveland said.
Besides the Tuesday meeting with Arctic Cat and Digi-Key executives, Fischbach this month has traveled to the city to meet with Thief River Falls leaders about the hangar the city plans to build. The hangar, which is needed for businesses such as Digi-Key and Textron to store their planes, will be funded in part by Federal Aviation Administration funds.
Another economic driver in northwest Minnesota is the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline replacement project, Fischbach said. She is concerned President Joe Biden will halt construction of the line, which she believes would be a mistake.
“We need to make sure that Line 3 is replaced,” she said, noting that there appears to be confusion about the line among some of its opponents.
“It’s not a new line,” ‘Fischbach said.
Meanwhile, halting the Line 3 project will result in job losses and less revenue going into the economies of northwest Minnesota cities, she said.
Making sure northwest Minnesota residents have good broadband that will give them access to things like telemedicine and education is another issue on which Fischbach is working. Without good internet access, people will lose out on the benefits they provide.
“We have to make sure that individuals have the opportunity to get that to their doors,” she said.
Fischbach, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, plans to voice support for ethanol and soy diesel during discussions about climate change, she said.
“Those are sources we’re already using; we have to make sure that we don’t neglect those in favor of solar and wind,” Fischbach said.
The effect that Biden’s proposed increase of nearly 40% to the capital gains tax is another issue which Fischbach has heard about from farmers during her time in northwest Minnesota, she said.
“They’re very concerned about that,” Fischbach said.
She also plans to work with other members of Congress to convince Biden to work with the Canadian government to open the U.S.-Canada border.