Polaris Industries announced Thursday it will shut down its plant in the western Wisconsin city of Osceola, putting more than 500 people out of work. Polaris is headquartered in Medina, Minn. and saw its sales take a tumble last year.
Word of the shutdown spread quickly through the small town of about 3,000 people.
"I found out when I walked into the gas station to get a pack of cigarettes, and it floored me," said Steven Meyer, who owns the Cascade Bar, where a lot of Polaris workers hang out.
"We get quite a few of them down here," he said. "When they do their profit-sharing they come down, and I usually set up a little special bratwurst and that kind of thing for them."
Meyer said he's worried what the shutdown will mean for the town's other businesses, like the supermarket where many Polaris employees shop.
The Polaris plant makes parts for the company's snowmobiles, ATVs and Victory motorcycles. Officials say some of the work will be moved to the company's plants in Roseau, Minn., and Spirit Lake, Iowa plants. And some will move to a new factory the company will build in Monterrey, Mexico.
Polaris also said it's negotiating to sell some of its parts manufacturing processes and equipment in Osceola to suppliers who would continue making components there.
Polaris is one of the largest employers in Polk County, Wis. The company said it expects the moves will save $30 million a year.
Polaris had a tough 2009. With the recession causing consumers to rein in spending, Polaris saw its sales and profits drop at double-digit rates.
The company said this year is likely to be tough for the industry, too. So Polaris is on a campaign to raise its prices and cut product costs to help the bottom line.
Company spokeswoman Marlys Knutson said the shutdown will take place gradually over the course of the next 18-24 months.
She said the affected employees will be allowed to apply for jobs at the other Polaris facilities or with companies that continue producing parts in Osceola. She said the company is doing everything it can for the workers.
"We are very concerned about the employees that this is affecting, and we want to help them as much as we can through the transition," said Knutson.
Polaris officials made the announcement Thursday in a meeting with employees. Company officials stationed police outside the plant during the meeting, in case of trouble.
Bar owner Steven Meyer said many of his friends from the plant have worked there for years. He said people have a right to be angry.
"It's the people that are going to lose their homes, not be able to pay their rent -- that kind of thing," said Meyer. "What are they going to do? Unemployment doesn't really take care of your livelihood. It is going to be tough on people, but everybody bounces back. Let's hope they all do."