After COVID and other delays, Doosan Bobcat has completed a major expansion of its Litchfield, Minn., plant and is now looking to hire 160 additional workers.

Construction of the $26 million addition, which tripled the size of the facility, began in 2019 and was scheduled to be completed in September.

But with COVID and supply disruptions, the 200,000-square-foot plant officially opens this month. Several assembly lines are expected to be relocated there soon from the company's other factories in North Dakota, officials said.

Officials said tripling the size of the plant about 60 miles west of the Twin Cities was badly needed as the original building was "bursting at the seams," the company said. Demand for Doosan Bobcat's construction equipment, which skyrocketed before the pandemic, began rising again late last year.

Mike Ballweber, president of Doosan Bobcat North America, said home and business owners turned to the company for its building, remodeling and landscaping construction equipment while they waited for COVID-19's grip to pass.

The Litchfield plant makes buckets, augers, snowplows and other attachments for Bobcat's skid-steer loaders, track loaders and excavators.

The expanded factory has 140 workers, but needs another 110 before the end of this year, Ballweber said. The company plans to hire an additional 50 employees over the next three years, bringing total employment there to 300.

Finding workers to work in manufacturing could be challenging. Ballweber said some people who lost service jobs during the pandemic may prefer their unemployment compensation to taking a factory job. Doosan Bobcat needs operators to run jigsaws, presses, lasers and welding equipment and will work with the state and trade schools in the St. Cloud area to spread word of its hiring, he said.

The prospect of additional well-paying manufacturing jobs has thrilled city officials.

"We are excited they came to Minnesota and to Litchfield to expand their plant. There is no doubt about that. They are really ramping up hiring," said Litchfield Mayor Keith Johnson.

Doosan CEO Scott Park flew in from Doosan's global headquarters in South Korea to be in Litchfield for Thursday's grand opening. In announcing the expansion project a year and a half ago, he said he is committed to Minnesota acting as a major global-operations hub for Doosan's North American business.

When COVID struck last year, Doosan Bobcat temporarily shut some of its U.S. factories. The Litchfield plant banned visitors, reconfigured workstations and staggered lunch breaks to keep workers safe. The moves are credited with preventing big outbreaks.

Still, the virus caused material shortages and other short-lived disruptions. Full-year 2020 sales fell 6.2% to $3.6 billion. Sales rallied during the last three months of the year, jumping 8%.

"By the fourth quarter we were going full out again and it has not stopped since," Ballweber said. "I have never seen anything like this where we are coming out of a pandemic, the backlog we have and just the way our industry is going crazy right now is unbelievable," Ballweber said.

Doosan Bobcat recently expanded its 25-member staff in downtown Minneapolis.

Doosan, based in South Korea, owns Doosan Bobcat, which has facilities in Litchfield, and in Bismarck, Gwinner and Wahpeton, N.D., as well as in Wisconsin, Colorado, North Carolina, China, India, France and the Czech Republic.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725