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File Photo: Employees exit Farley's & Sathers Candy Company Thursday evening in Round Lake after learning the facility will terminate its production, warehouse and trucking operations in Round Lake in the first quarter of 2010.

Year in Review: Suzlon, AGCO, Farley's & Sathers make cuts

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WORTHINGTON -- As the economy teetered back and forth in 2009 and government officials struggled to find ways to save and create new jobs, the recession struck in southwest Minnesota, causing three large employers to lay off large portions of their workforces.

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Suzlon, which manufactures wind turbines at its facility in Pipestone, announced in June that it would eliminate 70 positions by August and cut another 90 by the end of September.

"I think the community a whole sees it as a crushing blow, so to speak," said Laurie Ness, mayor of Pipestone.

Pipestone had already been hit hard after the closure of the U.S. Marine plant in October 2008, which left more than 200 people without jobs.

Suzlon had hired some of them.

Officials from the City of Pipestone had already scheduled a meeting with local economic development officials to try to find ways to help the people whose jobs had been cut.

Suzlon's workers came from Pipestone, but the company had also been busing people in from Sioux Falls, S.D. and Worthington.

"I'm hopeful, with the economy turning around... that (Suzlon) will be able to get back to full staff out there, and the demand for blades will be back to what they were expecting," said Pipestone's city administrator, Jeff Jones.

AGCO, the largest employer in Jackson, was next, and laid off 80 employees -- about 10 percent of its work force -- in October.

The company produces agricultural equipment, including tractors, combines, sprayers and forage equipment, under the brands Challenger, Fendt, Massey Ferguson and Valtra.

AGCO blamed the layoffs on a softening market and decreased demand for its products.

"I am confident of the strong leadership at AGCO," said Jackson Mayor Mitch Jasper. "There is no doubt in my mind that AGCO's workforce will be back to full capacity in no time at all. This is just a bump in the road in a wild economy."

Then 175 positions were eliminated at Farley's & Sathers Candy Co. at Round Lake, as a result of the company's decision to relocate its packaging, warehousing and fleet operations to facilities in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Dallas. Six employees in the company's corporate offices were also notified their positions would be cut.

Approximately 150 employees will keep their positions in the company's offices, including people who work in customer service, finance, accounting, administration, human resources, logistics, supply chain and information technology.

The positions will be eliminated in the first quarter of 2010, said Michelle Graber, a public relations official with Farley's and Sathers.

"It was just kind of shocking and it came out of nowhere," said Dustin Casper, who had worked for two years in the company's shipping office. "Nobody really thought it would be coming."

Employees were quiet when the announcement was made, and some broke down in tears. A rumor had been circulating that the third shift packaging operation would close, but Casper said no one expected the entire packing and shipping departments would be eliminated.

Graber said the company will work with employees on counseling and relocation efforts in the coming days, weeks and months.

"We are committed to offering alternative positions within the company where possible," Graber said. "We will be providing assistance to ease the transition, including comprehensive severance packages, outplacement services, education, retraining and counseling.

"In addition to that, we will be working closely with local government officials and employment agencies to identify opportunities outside of Farley's & Sathers," she added.

Farley's & Sathers has been in operation in Round Lake since 2002, but the actual Sathers Co. got its start in the southern Nobles County community in 1936 as a small grocery business. The packaging and trucking operations began in the 1960s in Round Lake.

Graber said the future of the warehouse facilities in Round Lake was unknown.

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