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Community members gathered in Kulm to discuss the planned closure of the Titan Machinery dealership there. (Josh Gackle)

Titan closing hits Kulm hard

About three weeks ago, the city of Kulm, N.D., and farmers from the surrounding area woke up to some troubling news: Titan Machinery, our local Case IH dealership, announced a corporate restructuring plan in which they would be closing a number of stores throughout their territory, including the dealership in Kulm where I live and where my family farm is located.

For the farmers like me who have been loyal customers of our local Case IH dealership, we will now have to rely on sales and service from stores and service technicians that are farther away and more difficult to reach during the busy seasons of planting and harvest.

For the community of Kulm, where this particular store has been located in some form or another for over 100 years, the Titan store is our town's third largest employer. Employees, who are friends with deep roots in Kulm, will be looking for new jobs. City officials and other local businesses are concerned about the effects of losing a large employer and the possible effects on other businesses and on school enrollment and financial resources.

Nearly 200 people attended a community meeting to support employees, generate a response to Titan Machinery and maybe change some minds. We are grateful executives from Titan have agreed to meet with local officials, business leaders and farmers to discuss the closure.

City leaders want community members to engage with Titan Machinery and remind them how important the business is to our community. While a different outcome is in no way guaranteed, these efforts once again make me proud to call Kulm my home. The following is an excerpt from my letter, one of many similar letters to go out from people in and around Kulm:

"I was disappointed to hear that you have decided to close Titan Machinery in Kulm, N.D. I believe this decision was a mistake — my friends and neighbors who worked at the Kulm Titan location have lost their jobs and may leave our community, it will negatively impact the farm operation of each farmer who did business at the Kulm Titan Machinery, and it will hurt the Kulm community. Most important to you, it has irreparably damaged customer trust in the Titan Machinery brand and shattered customer loyalty.

"I can assure you that when the Kulm location is closed, my loyalty to Titan and Case IH will vanish. If I have to drive to LaMoure, Wishek, or Jamestown for equipment, parts and service, it will now be just as easy to go the green store as it is the red store.

"Gackle Farms in Kulm has been a loyal customer of Titan Machinery and the CASE IH brand for well over 60 years. Our decision to purchase red combines, planters, drills and large tractors from the Kulm dealership is made in large part because of the excellent and reliable service we receive from our local dealer. In a letter received this week from CEO Dave Meyer, Titan Machinery states this restructuring will make service and sales even more efficient, and that current customers of the Kulm location will see their service enhanced. I must say that is terribly ill-conceived. When our combine breaks down next fall and we are scrambling to get the last of the crop harvested, there is no way that waiting for a service truck from more than 40 miles away is going to make service to Gackle Farms more reliable and/or efficient.

"Kulm's dealership was used as a building block for Titan Machinery's billion-dollar business. Our community has given more than a century of support to CASE IH in Kulm. Closing the Kulm dealership would be a clear sign that Titan's interest in their customers extends no further than the bottom line.

"Titan Machinery must balance the company's self-interest with the interest of the communities they serve. It is the right thing to do. Please act now to renew my faith in your business and your commitment to our community. I know you can't continue to operate every location you've ever owned, but closing the Titan location in Kulm is the wrong decision.

"No business can survive if it neglects the communities and people it seeks as their customers. We've done what we can to make Titan's business profitable, and they found success here. For that reason, I believe Kulm's Titan Machinery has earned the right to survive this corporate restructuring."

Editor's note: Gackle is a third-generation farmer in Kulm, N.D., and former staffer for Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

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