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Benchmark closing

By Staff | Feb 13, 2015

Tim Chapman/PCT Benchmark Electronics in Dunseith, employer of families in Pierce County, is closing this year.

As many as 20 area families will be impacted when the Benchmark Electronics plant in Dunseith closes later this year.

A shutdown announcement of the longtime business was made the first week of February, blindsiding the employees, some of whom have worked there for more than three decades.

An employee who has worked at the Dunseith plant more than 20 years said: “Most everybody is still in shock. These are good jobs. It’s an incredible place to work.”

The employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, continued:

“We build printed circuit boards. Some go in airplanes, some go in missiles. Our main customer is Honeywell, which sells to Lockheed Martin, which sells to the government. Benchmark as a whole is into a lot of things, but only a few plants are into electronics.” The Dunseith facility is one of those.

Worldwide company

With plants worldwide, Benchmark Electronics, Inc. is a provider of integrated electronics, according to the company’s website. The company creates, designs, builds prototypes, tests and manufactures components for original equipment manufacturers of telecommunication equipment, computers and related products, industrial control equipment and medical devices. Among the products they have designed and built are the first swallowable camera for transmitting live video of its journey through the body and the first portable Braille personal digital assistant, telephone and organizer.

The company started in Clute, Texas, in 1979 and grew mainly through acquisition. The Dunseith branch began in the 1980s as Turtle Mountain Corporation, and after a few different owners, was acquired by Benchmark in the mid-2000s. It occupies a 100,000-square-foot building and employs about 120 people. Benchmark has plants in 20 locations on three continents and has a workforce of more than 100,000. It is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

Local impact

Community reaction is one of surprise and consternation.

Betty Triplett, president of Ramsey National Bank in Rugby, believes there will be a big impact on the local area.

“These could be the breadwinner of the family,” she said. “Are the families going to be leaving the community? Are there jobs out there in other towns?”

Rugby’s north Envision location will definitely feel the effect of the closure according to employee Gary DeMers.

“Lots of them fill gas here in the morning when they go to work,” he said. “They get coffee. And they all buy propane or fuel oil from us. I talked to one employee and he doesn’t know what he’s going to do. He’d like to stay in Rugby, but how can Rugby have jobs for them all? And they’ll lose their health insurance. It really concerns me.”

The same concern is felt by Rugby City Council Member James Hoffert (Ward 3), who said he hasn’t heard much local reaction, but is saddened by the news.

“It’s taking away what little we have out here,” Hoffert said. “Any time you take away that number of jobs, the impact is huge.”

What now?

The employee who spoke to the Tribune has heard the plant will be closed down in phases, and the Honeywell portion will move to the Benchmark facility at Rochester, Minn. It is possible some employees may be offered jobs at other locations.

“I don’t really know what the corporate stance is,” he said. “We’re a profitable company. My understanding is we’re not big enough and we don’t fit the corporate footprint.”

Other Benchmark employees approached for this story said they were not authorized to speak.

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