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Kulm supports Titan employees: Community meeting on closure to result in meeting with Titan CEO

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Dallas Wulf, left, and Sophia Buerkley signing petitions Wednesday to ask Titan Machinery to keep the Kulm dealership open. Tom LaVenture / The Sun2 / 3
Harvey Lindgren of Kulm speaks in support of the Titan Machinery employees at a community meeting Wednesday. Tom LaVenture / The Sun3 / 3

KULM, N.D. -- Residents in Kulm are going to bat for employees of a business that is closing here as part of a corporate restructuring plan.

Titan Machinery Inc., a West Fargo, N.D.,-based agriculture and construction equipment provider, announced Feb. 10 that it is closing the Kulm dealership and three others in North Dakota. Jamestown is not on the closure list. Eleven employees of the Kulm dealership will be affected directly, and others from the town of 350 people said the impact will include other businesses.

“It’s a good business and that’s what is so shocking and unthinkable about it,” said Jordan Gackle, president of the Kulm Community Development Corp.

The effort has apparently paid off as Jeff Bowman, chief marketing officer of Titan Machinery, said Thursday that David Meyer, chairman and CEO, has been in contact with Gackle. He said Meyer agreed to meet with a group from Kulm to discuss the Kulm dealership.

“A meeting is in the works,” Bowman said. “They are trying to put something together over the next couple of weeks.”

The top three employers in Kulm are Kulm Public School, Hometown Credit Union and Titan Machinery, Gackle said. A “grassroots groundswell” of concern prompted the meeting for residents to talk about the impact of Titan closing and also the surprise of the announcement to show solidarity in a positive but appropriate response, he said.

The more than 150 people present signed petitions to Titan Machinery either as farmer-customers who feel operations will be more difficult or as a resident to express the adverse effect of the closing on employees’ families and the community, Gackle said.

The goal is to generate a wave of responses to the Titan Machinery leadership, he said. There is a one-month window of opportunity to possibly influence a decision by Titan to reconsider before it said it plans to close the Kulm dealership on March 31, and this is a way for people who feel at a loss to try and help.

“We have nothing to lose at this point,” Gackle said. “If the community responds in numbers the business might still be closed, but as a community I care most that we did what we could, that we spoke truth, that we stood up for our friends and neighbors who lost their jobs, for the farmers whose operations will be disrupted by this change, and most importantly that we stood together as a community.”

Area residents reflected on the difference that Titan Machinery employees have made in farming and the community.

Farmers said they choose the Titan Machinery brand based on local service. They prefered knowing who they are dealing with, they said.

On a personal side some residents talked about technicians who go above and beyond what is expected of them, such as helping to repair a bus, a Bobcat or other machinery after an untimely breakdown. A neighbor of the business said Titan Machinery employees would help her move her son who has physical disabilities when no one else was around.

Steven Anderson said when his Concord air seeder broke down on a weekend a couple of years ago, Titan Machinery technicians worked tirelessly on it until it was running again. He said the importance of personal, family-like relationships with small-town businesses needs to be communicated to the corporate side of Titan Machinery.

“The relationship that one builds with a local business, there is nothing that compares to it,” Anderson said.

Titan Machinery salesman Wes Gackle said he was pleased to see so much support for a business his family started 97 years ago before it was sold to Titan in 1999 when he joined the sales staff. Right now people are walking around like zombies in the shop, he said.

“I want to thank you for the support you have given to me in the 18 years I have worked for Titan,” he said to the group. “I just want to tell you guys that we care about you.”

Andrew McDermid, owner of Kulm Hardware and Home Center, said Titan Machinery employees who find work at dealerships in other communities will likely shop where they work because Kulm businesses will be closed by the time they commute back home.

Kulm Mayor Tony Buerkley said the loss of sales tax revenue from the business will affect the city of Kulm’s budget. He asked residents to be respectful when communicating with Titan Machinery as the company still supports events in the area.