March 15, 2016 11:40 AM, EDT
Minnesota Town Hit by News of Polar Tank Trailer Closing Manufacturing Plant
TT File Photo

HOLDINGFORD, Minn. — Mild shock waves can be felt throughout a central Minnesota community as it prepares to lose a major manufacturing facility.

St. Cloud-based Polar Tank Trailer is ceasing operations at Holdingford facility within the next month and a half. Employees were notified of the decision March 3.

Polar Tank Trailer manufactures stainless steel trailers used to haul dry and liquid bulk freight. Its products were in high demand when oil production was booming in North Dakota.

Fourteen of the 24 Holdingford employees will join the 460 employees at Polar's Opole facility. The other 10 employees will be laid off.

The plant closure worries Kevin Headly, owner of Headly's Hardware Hank in Holdingford, population 704.

"I saw a lot of business from that facility," Headly said. "There will definitely be a trickle-down effect for the community."

Headly said he remembers just last year production at the Holdingford facility was up dramatically. They were running three shifts, he said.

"But we've seen those numbers cut," Headly said.

A couple of blocks down, Holdingford Gas and Grocery also has noticed a dip in business from some of the regular Polar Tank customers.

"We feel it especially because obviously they frequent our store," owner Drew Neupert said.

Holdingford Gas and Grocery employee Bernice Ebnet said Polar workers come in for gas, snacks and lunch on a regular basis.

"You can really tell [here] when they are not working," she said.

Neupert said he and his employees have come to know a lot of the people working at the Holdingford plant and appreciated their business over the years.

"[Polar Tank closing] is not like a deal breaker," Neupert said. "But it definitely can be felt in the community."

For Holdingford mayor Sue Marstein, the plant's closure affects not only her city, but her family as well.

"This was very sudden," Marstein said.

Marstein said her husband, Doug, is 30-year-veteran of the Holdingford Polar plant. He is one of the employees who will transition to the Opole facility.

"It's really sad for the city of Holdingford," she said. "It's hard losing any sort of business on Main Street."

According to property tax records, the Holdingford Polar Tank Trailer facility generated almost $5,900 in property tax revenue for the city during 2015.

Polar Tank Trailer Human Resources Director Reid Nelson said the Holdingford building, which is owned by Polar Tank Trailer, will be put up for sale.

Nelson said the facility in Holdingford was difficult to work in. "It was not conducive for the business that we do," he said.

Machinist union business representative Colleen Murphy-Cooney said contract negotiations for Polar Tank employees in Holdingford and Opole had recently wrapped up. Employees are members of IAM Local Lodge 623, based in St. Cloud.

Murphy-Cooney said the company also had an unemployment representative at the facility last week.

Issues at the Holdingford facility have employees and union leaders at the Polar Tank Trailer facility in Springfield, Missouri, worried as well.

"We are concerned about our plant closing down," said Rex Stapp, employee with Polar Tank and president of the Springfield United Steelworkers union chapter 11-770.

Stapp said employees at the Springfield plant are on strike, protesting what they believe is unfair treatment by the company's new owner, New York City-based investment group American Industrial Partners.

"The Holdingford [plant)]signed their [labor] contract, and they are still closing," Stapp said.