Russ Oechslin Journal Correspondent
Iowa - The motorcycles, electric
motorcars, all-terrain vehicles and other heavy sports equipment coming off the
assembly line at the Polaris Industries plant here got Iowa Gov. Terry
Branstad's stamp of approval Tuesday.
When Polaris opened in Spirit Lake
18 years ago, personal watercraft were its only product.
Those "were a lot of fun to ride. But we never made any
money on them," CEO Scott Wine told Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and a host
of local officials during a tour of the facility that employs about 700.
Today, Polaris sees 15 vehicles an hour cross the end of the
assembly line, and Branstad noted the innovative strides the company has made
since his last visit.
"I'm excited at hearing them purchasing companies like
Indian Motorcycles and GEM electric cars and bringing them to Iowa," he said. "That's really good. And I
think that says something about the confidence they have in Iowa
and in Spirit Lake."
Indian was formerly based in North
Carolina and GEM operated in Fargo,
Pictures on the walls show Branstad was here as governor
when the plant opened in 1994. Reynolds said the pictures show her boss "has
been everywhere. We see pictures of him every place we go."
Before Tuesday's tour, when the governor heard Wine say Polaris
and other similar companies are having problems hiring skilled labor-especially
welders-he offered to see if the company would benefit from his Skilled Iowa
Initiative, which would help train potential employees.
"It's a great initiative," Reynolds said, "because
it works with Workforce Development and the individual businesses, and it gives
the unemployed individual an opportunity to intern for eight weeks" without
giving up unemployment benefits.
Welding department manager Jim Bruha said he is working with
teachers at Okoboji
High School to help train
assembly workers who want to learn welding, which pays more.
Last year Polaris Industries had sales of about $2 billion.
Just a month ago, the company reported record second quarter sales, with earnings
per share increasing 44 percent, to 98 cents, on sales growth of 24 percent.
With the new Indian and GEM offerings and the introduction
of a new line of recreational vehicles in Stugis,
S.D., last week, Wine said he
expects to top $3 billion in sales this year.