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For Mueller, the human resource manager, the robots spell relief. He can’t imagine having to find even more workers to do all the robots do with exacting “precision, quality and speed.”
At the other end of the factory, blue sparks flew off a $2 million robot that soldered ribbons of molten metal on the chassis fabrication line. A dozen more robots are on their way.
One of them — a faster, two-armed welding wonder -- arrived July 8. Once installed, it will weld an entire axle frame onto a chassis in seconds. Another automated welder arrives next week, followed by several computerized lasers that can cut intricate tractor parts from thick steel like butter.
All the technology delighted customer Eric Watson. He zipped in from Renville this month to test drive and take home two Challenger tractors fresh from the factory floor.
“It’s amazing to see how the technology has advanced. … It’s a thrill for a farmer,” said Watson, who grows corn, sugar beets and soybeans.
AGCO’s custom-made tractors can be as decked out as any Cadillac. Options include GPS, automated steering and even precision-guided mapping so farmers like Watson can deposit perfect rows of seeds according to computer-generated patterns.
AGCO’s North American sales (from Jackson and two factories in Kansas) rose 10 percent to $624 million during the first quarter. Globally, quarterly sales grew 5 percent to $2.4 billion.
AGCO’s rapid growth in Minnesota doesn’t surprise Ernie Goss, director of Creighton University’s economic forecasting group. “Farm income really began to take off in January 2009,” he said. “But one of the keys they face … is labor and finding the talent they need.”
But if the city builds up, will the workers come?
Yes, insists Goss.
“There are a heck of a lot of people who would move there from Detroit or Cincinnati or even Minneapolis to take these jobs, especially if they can get housing or land at a cheap price.”