2017 Year in Review: Story No. 1

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

MAJOR CHANGES AT POLARIS

Company shifts focus to Indian motorcycles in 2017

This is part of a series looking back at 2017.

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One of the region's largest employers shuffled production lines, discontinued a major brand and closed its Milford location in an eventful 2017.

In January, Polaris announced plans to "immediately begin winding down" its 18-year-old Victory motorcycle brand and the brand's production operations in Spirit Lake.

"This was an incredibly difficult decision for me, my team and the Polaris Board of Directors," Polaris Industries Chairman and CEO Scott Wine said in January. "Over the past 18 years, we have invested not only resources, but our hearts and souls, into forging the Victory Motorcycles brand, and we are exceptionally proud of what our team has accomplished."

Polaris said Victory has struggled to establish the market share needed to be profitable. Polaris officials also liked the strong performance and growth potential of its Indian line.

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Polaris acquired the 110-year-old Indian motorcycle line in April of 2011. Its presence in Spirit Lake helped offset some of the workforce losses associated with the Victory decision.

But not all positions could be spared — Polaris Industries officials in April confirmed plans to discontinue production at its factory on the south edge of Milford.

About 330 positions at the Milford location were eliminated, according to Polaris spokeswoman Jess Rogers. Some of the employees were given a chance to relocate within the company.

“Polaris will have approximately 650 employees in the region after we discontinue manufacturing in Milford,” she said at the time.

The job cuts at Polaris came less than five years after the company confirmed plans to invest $22.5 million in an expansion at the 565,000-square-foot Polaris manufacturing facility in Spirit Lake.

The construction helped accommodate a newly-opened Indian Motorcycle Experience Center on the eastern side of the Spirit Lake Polaris plant.

The ribbon was cut on the combination showroom, lobby and retail space in August — just ahead of the Iowa Great Lakes Chamber of Commerce’s third-annual Boji Bike Rally. Rally riders were able to visit the Experience Center Friday and Saturday of rally weekend. Blain Andera, who serves as mayor of Spirit Lake, director of the Spirit Lake Chamber of Commerce and director of the Iowa Great Lakes Chamber, was enthusiastic about the addition to the plant — in each of his official capacities.

"We’re so excited they’re going to be open for the Boji Bike Rally," Andera said. "It’s one more thing that’s going to make the experience unique for our residents and visitors alike…From the area’s stand-point, we’re excited Polaris and Indian Motorcycles are still investing in our community."

The former Polaris building in Milford also closed 2017 with a new use.

Members of the Iowa Economic Development Authority board in December announced the state portion of a financial package to help Liberty Diversified International locate its Safco Products plant in Milford.

The Newhope, Minnesota company will operate Safco Products in the south Milford location that formerly housed Polaris, Klaussner Home Furnishings and Stylecraft production lines.

LDI will receive $500,000 in direct financial assistance plus tax benefits for Safco through the state's "High Quality Jobs" program. Milford officials confirmed the city's portion of an incentive package at its Dec. 18 city council meeting.

"We have been searching throughout the Midwest for high-tech manufacturing space for our Safco Products Co. operations,” Liberty Diversified International Chairman and CEO Mike Fiterman said. "Moving into the Milford facility became an excellent option for us because of the educated workforce, a plant with advanced technology capabilities and the combined support of the Milford City Council and the Iowa Economic Development Authority Board."

Fiterman said the company "will employ more than 100 people for furniture manufacturing operations" in 2018.

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