Michael Burke, The Journal Times, April 26, 2011

MOUNT PLEASANT, Wis. — Demand for Case-New Holland tractors made here has been so strong this year that the plant is on record pace and will soon add a second production shift.

The plant at 7000 Durand Ave. builds Case IH Magnum and T-8000 New Holland tractors. Tuesday Plant Manager Steve Tyler declined to divulge actual production numbers but said the current pace will outstrip the plant's previous record tractor production in 2008.

To meet demand, the plant will add a second tractor production shift in late May, Tyler said, adding, "I believe this is the first time (for that)."

To add the shift, CNH is hiring 150 new employees; Tyler said they're about 40 percent of the way there.

"We're still taking candidates," he said. "We see people sitting out in the hallway day and night these days."

For several years, the total of all hourly workers at the plant was about 350, Tyler said. When CNH starts the second tractor assembly shift, it will be about 750.

Factors causing robust demand for tractors include higher commodity prices and new products, said Kyle Russell, Case IH senior marketing director. For example, corn prices per bushel were less than $5 in January 2009, but at $7.67 now, he said.

Also, Russell said rising oil prices promote use of ethanol, which is usually made from corn.

And late last year CNH introduced a new line of Case IH Magnum tractors with a brand new engine technology for CNH, called selective catalytic reduction.

Designed to meet new, much tougher federal pollution standards, the new engines also improve performance by at least 10 percent, according to CNH.

"This new ... tractor is being very well-received by customers worldwide," Tyler said. "And with about a 10 percent less operating cost, that's a pretty big deal with our customers." Forty percent of the tractors made here are exported, he noted.

Last week CNH reported its first-quarter sales climbed by 17.3 percent over one year earlier, to $3.8 billion. Eighty-one percent of that was for agricultural products and 19 percent for construction equipment.

Union cooperates

"To keep up with the amounts we need to make every day, we couldn't do it with just one shift - the order board was not letting up," said Richard Glowacki, recording secretary and acting vice president for United Auto Workers Local 180.

He said the tractor plant is now building a few dozen Magnums daily. To do that, employees often work overtime, on the first shift's front end.

The first shift will stay largely the same with a second shift of about 150 workers, Tyler said. But CNH will ask a few experienced employees to join the new shift and help with training.

Glowacki said the union is going to do whatever is needed. "Obviously, this is going to benefit us and the longevity of our facility. No one's going to derail this."

Besides one shift of tractor production, soon to be two, the plant also machines parts for other CNH products, on three shifts. Last year the company authorized a $20 million capital infusion to increase that capacity, Tyler said.

The recent hiring has brought parking issues even on the massive CNH property, Glowacki noted. For example, parking was previously prohibited on the service road that rims the plant. These days, on first shift that interior road is full of employees' cars.

MICHAEL BURKE mburke@journaltimes.com