In all the talk about Racine's highest-in-the-state unemployment rate, and amid the efforts of civic and business leaders to create job training programs and attract new companies with manufacturing jobs to the city and county, one existing firm's good news has slipped under the radar.
John Valko Jr., president of UAW Local 180, corrected that oversight recently with an article in the labor paper in which he noted that CNH's tractor-building force increased to about 490 in recent weeks. In other words, Case New Holland has hired 194 additional hourly employees since the current contract was ratified in March 2005 (after a nasty four-month walkout/lockout).
"These new employees are just on the hourly side of the business, and there has also been hiring on the salary side, but not to this extent," Valko said. "Since I wrote that article an additional eight employees have been hired, and seven more are starting this week, which will bring the new hire total to 208 since ratification, and I am told the hiring will continue."
Valko says the hiring is due to high demand for Case's product. And, "we are in the process of a line rebalance to increase production in May." What that means is that Case-New Holland will be building a new tractor, "smaller than the current Magnum. It is talked about being a mini-Magnum, and will be in the 180-210 horsepower group. I don't know what it will actually be called, but it will be RED. We are all very excited about this, and we will continue to build the Magnum and New Holland tractors as we currently do." (For the uninitiated, red is Case's traditional tractor color; New Holland's color is blue. You have to be a Racinian to care ... but if you are, then it really matters. And don't even ask about John Deere green.)
Of course, everything is relative: In 1974 when Valko started working at Case, there were approximately 3,300 hourly employees in the foundry -- bulldozed two years ago -- and the tractor plant. Hourly employment reached a high during the mid-1970s of about 3,600. The current salaried employee headcount, he says, is between 2,000 and 2,500 in Racine.
Just a week ago, CNH released its 1st Qtr earnings, with net income up 19%, to $125 million. Sales for the quarter rose 26% to $4.1 billion over the first quarter 2007. "“Our first quarter net income represents the ninth consecutive quarter of year-over-year improvement, which is very encouraging,” said Harold Boyanovsky, CNH president and CEO. "The industrial issues which negatively impacted margins in the fourth quarter of 2007 continued into the first quarter of this year, as strong demand for our agricultural products pressured both our manufacturing operations and our supplier ranks. Corrective actions which are already underway will improve results as we progress through the year."
But the stock market was unimpressed, and punished CNH investors by bidding the stock price down last Thursday by almost $10 from last week's high of $56 per share. It dropped another $2.44 today, to close at $44.81.