Bard Medical, the city of Stewartville's largest employer, will cease operations in southeast Minnesota by 2017, according to a source with inside knowledge of the company's plans.
The move, which will likely be announced to employees next month, has been in the works for at least a year. Bard employs about 250 people in Stewartville, including 150 full-time workers.
“All the jobs are going away," said the source, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The first rounds of cuts will likely be in April, followed by more layoffs in July and September.
Bard Medical is a division of C.R. Bard, a multibillion-dollar corporation headquartered out of New Jersey that employs nearly 14,000 workers worldwide. Bard acquired Rochester Medical Corp. — a local startup that manufactures silicone catheters — in 2013 for $262 million.
Since purchasing Rochester Medical, Bard has kept quiet about its plans to leave Minnesota. According to the source, only a handful of high-level employees at the Stewartville plant have been briefed on the company's plans.
Most employees "have no idea how imminent this is,” the source said. “They don’t realize we’re going to unbolt the tanks and move them all to Mexico.”
Bard recently built a new 150,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Juarez, Mexico, located just across border from El Paso, Texas. Executives and managers have already been making routine trips down to Mexico to prepare for the move.
However, at the Stewartville plant, company executives have been telling employees that the new facility in Juarez is needed for future expansion — while explicitly leaving out the company's plans for layoffs.
"They have been telling employees it's related to capacity, that demand is growing," the source said. "That’s been the story line for more than a year."
When Bard first acquired Rochester Medical, it eliminated multiple executive and commercial positions. Many of those employees walked away with large severance packages.
Then in 2014, Bard announced plans to phase out more than 60 additional packaging jobs at the Stewartville plant. Some of the employees affected were offered temporary positions to stay on with the company.
Both those moves "made sense," the source said, and are normal anytime a company begins to integrate with a larger entity. The problem this time around is not the offshoring of manufacturing jobs — which is common practice for companies looking to increase profit margins — but the "poor communication and lack of honesty."
Rochester Medical was founded in 1988 by two brothers, Anthony "Jim" and Philip Conway, and their colleague Richard Fryar. Within three years, they launched their first product and took the company public.
They spent the next 10 years developing a full line of urinary care products and expanding into the global marketplace. In 2002, annual sales surpassed the $10 million mark for the first time. A decade later, Rochester Medical employed 400 people worldwide and reported $65 million in sales.
Speaking by phone Tuesday morning, Jim Conway told me he has informally heard about Bard's plans to move out of Stewartville. While disappointed, the former president and CEO of Rochester Medical said he understands Bard's need to remain competitive in the global market.
"Emotionally, you hate to see Minnesotans lose their jobs," said Conway, who with his brother Philip and two other partners recently launched a new medical tech firm in Stewartville. "But as a businessman, I recognize they need to do what's best for the company."
Stewartville's city administrator, Bill Schimmel, said Tuesday he had not heard about Bard's plans to leave the city. Schimmel said it was the city's belief that Bard would continue operations there. About a year ago, the company celebrated the completion of a new 56,000-square-foot manufacturing building.
We reached out to Bard for this story, but a spokesperson for the company declined our request for comment.
About Sean Baker: Sean is the founder and editor of the Med City Beat. Under his direction, the site has transitioned from a small news blog to one of the most widely-read publications in the city. Prior to launching the site in 2014, Sean spent about two years producing television news in Green Bay and Rochester. His office is above a brewery, so please excuse any typos. Twitter.