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Steel shop scraps staff

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A longtime fabrication plant in Missoula is no longer producing steel bridges, pushing jobs to Billings as company officials consolidate amid the recent energy sector downturn.

A dozen or so jobs were eliminated last month at TrueNorth Steel, located across from the Missoula International Airport, President Dan Kadrmas says.

The layoffs came abruptly. Employees were notified of the change on Jan. 15, the same day the cuts took effect.

"There had been a lack of work for at least 60 to 90 days," Kadrmas says. "We had been discussing some projects we were possibly going to get."

The facility was owned for half a century by Roscoe Steel & Culvert before the company sold in 2011. It's known for manufacturing culverts and structural steel, including beams that hold up the GrizVision video screen at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

The facility has also produced modular bridges for roads and pedestrians, but Kadrmas says the fabrication will now take place in Billings. Both Montana facilities have been operating below capacity of late as demand among TrueNorth's energy clients diminishes, he says.

Missoula will continue to produce corrugated and metal pipe, but its workforce has dropped from "around 20 to around seven." Past news reports indicate the site employed as many as 50 people in 2002.

"We have a handful of people who are going to be operating the yard and the shop, and then we have our sales staff," Kadrmas says.

Kadrmas says he traveled to Missoula last month to announce the cutbacks.

"It's something that we take very seriously. We've been doing everything we can to help transition some of the employees," he says.

Specifically, the company plans to cover affected employees' health insurance for three months. They were also offered jobs at TrueNorth's other sites. In addition to Billings, the Fargo, N.D.-based company also runs manufacturing facilities in the Dakotas, Wyoming and Minnesota.

Kadrmas says he's worked closely with a local unemployment agency to assist those who will not remain with the company.

Missoula County's unadjusted unemployment rate was 4 percent in December 2015, just below the state average.

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