Putting the power in powersports
Arctic Cat is strengthening its legacy in Thief River Falls with diverse employee opportunities and continual product innovation.
It took Heidi McNary only a year and a half of living in Thief River Falls to capture the full Minnesota winter experience. She and her family had tried cross-country skiing, slapped on skates, tackled ice fishing – and she was about to slide into her next venture.
“I’m curling. Next week is finally my time!” she said with wide, anticipatory eyes. “I’m excited.”
The thrill of winter is what brought McNary to Thief River Falls in 2021, following the 2017 acquisition of Arctic Cat by a Fortune 500 industrial conglomerate, Textron Inc. As the Arctic Cat team found its footing with the new parent company, McNary joined Arctic Cat leadership as Senior Vice President and General Manager of Powersports.
“When Textron was looking to get into the powersports business, we really needed an iconic brand. We needed something that really resonated with customers. And there’s nothing better than Arctic Cat for that,” she said. “That was the real draw and remains the draw today – how passionate people are and how much affinity they have for the Arctic Cat brand.”
Arctic Cat has been a business staple in the community since 1960. Its current assembly facility on the south side of Thief River Falls employs more than 750 people, from assemblers to engineers to product strategists. Between the site’s employees and the families of those employees, approximately one-third of the town is affiliated with the company.
When Textron agreed to acquire Arctic Cat, the company did not take the new opportunity lightly.
“Our best customers are right here, so Textron continues to invest in the community,” McNary said, offering examples of event sponsorships and support of local sports teams. “It’s as important to us to be integral in terms of communicating and participating in the community as it is getting more customers.”
Textron’s investment includes heavy investment in its employees. As a part of Textron, Arctic Cat employees were introduced to a suite of new benefits, including a 401(k) plan with company match, pay-for-performance incentive programs and educational support. Textron offers a unique tuition assistance program for employees to pursue any undergraduate or master’s degree.
Textron also invested in new products, advancing innovation in the Arctic Cat brand. The team was thrilled to unveil its newest snowmobile platform, Catalyst, in fall 2022. The machines, available for preorder this spring, are built on a completely new platform from the ground up, boasting a lightweight, highly maneuverable ride that meets the power needs of snow veterans and comfort needs of those new to riding. McNary hopes the springboard sled – part of what she calls a “generational investment” – will attract an entirely new following to the brand.
“Our customers bleed green, and they are amazing. They know every spec, they can tell you the track lug height and length on any unit,” she said. “But we need to get people who have never thought about Arctic Cat – or who have never thought about snowmobiling – on the product, and I think that’s pretty revolutionary.”
McNary knows the art of developing an exceptional machine. She’s an engineer by training, spending most of her career in aviation development. She’s accustomed to being one of the few women in a male-dominated industry, but she’s using her role to bring more variety to the leadership table.
Arctic Cat’s leadership team includes women heading up sales, business, finance, human resources, sales operations and more. The group is more female than not.
“There are so many studies that say the more diverse your leadership team is, the better the company performs. Period,” McNary said. “I’m excited about being a little bit of an impetus for more change and more inclusion and more diverse thought around who should be at the table for powersports.”
Arctic Cat must reach beyond its internal workforce to community partners to guarantee snowmobiles and off-road vehicles continue to move through assembly lines at a rate of 250-300 units a day. Reliable electricity is essential to keeping up with demand. Losing power for even 15 minutes can be devastating. “Having that stability and knowing that it’s rock solid and that no matter what, we’re not going to be down, is incredibly important to us – and more important by the day,” McNary said.
Northern Municipal Power Agency (NMPA) works with Thief River Falls Municipal Utilities to make sure Textron has the reliable electricity it needs for consistent operations. NMPA General Manager Jasper Schneider says he’s pleased that the Minnkota-NMPA Joint System has been able to offer stable rates for more than six consecutive years, especially at a time of global economic inflation.
“The continued investments that Minnkota and NMPA make into the Joint System in substation upgrades, transmission improvement and power supply options ensure that our businesses in the system footprint will continue to receive reliable power in a time of tremendous industry change,” Schneider said.
That reliability will also support Arctic Cat as it continues to invest in an electrified product line. Textron is already the world’s biggest manufacturer of lithium-powered golf cars, but is investing in the development of electric ATVs, side-by-sides, and even snowmobiles.
The trajectory of powersports is still full throttle in Thief River Falls, and Arctic Cat is making sure that opportunity is spread to everyone – to riders, to the city and to the families who call “Arctic Cat country” home.
“It’s a great way to give the community opportunities for the next generation to do something a little different than their parents did,” McNary said. “That’s pretty meaningful to me, and we offer that.”
MAIN IMAGE: Heidi McNary serves at the senior vice president and general manager of powersports for Arctic Cat, a role she’s held since 2021. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)