Industry Watch

Manufacturing Winners Update

These previous MNBiz honorees share recent accomplishments, goals and concerns for the future

By Brian Martucci
Mon, 2017-04-24 10:34

We asked a handful of 2016 (Real) Power 50 honorees and Manufacturing Award winners to share their recent wins, near-term plans, and expectations for the future. Here’s what they had to say, lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
We asked a handful of 2016 (Real) Power 50 honorees and Manufacturing Award winners to share their recent wins, near-term plans, and expectations for the future. Here’s what they had to say, lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
 
Ben VandenWymelenberg, Founder & CEO, Woodchuck USA
 
Tell us about your company’s biggest win in 2016/early 2017.
We planted over 500,000 trees across the globe and launched a planting program with a partner in Madagascar. 
 
What does your company have planned for 2017?
Planting over one million trees and continuing our mission of expanding our “MADE IN USA” line of high-end, custom, wood packaging. 
 
Are you hiring? If so, for what?
We’re always looking for high-energy graphic designers who love to work cross-medium — Illustrator, Photoshop, Solid Works — and then take their designs into physical shape with manufacturing equipment. 
 
What business challenges do you foresee?
There are always challenges — what matters is how you view them. We’re viewing all challenges (and I’m sure there will be more) as opportunities for change and growth. We’re optimistic about our economy, U.S.-made manufacturing, and, most importantly, our mission to plant trees and connect people with nature. 
 
What about opportunities?
All of the above. 
 
What are you most excited about for 2017 and beyond?
First, the opportunity to create a brand that truly has a lasting positive impact on the planet. Second, the opportunity to empower others to push WOODCHUCK USA further than I ever could myself.
 
 
Dan Ferrise, CEO, Miller Manufacturing
 
Tell us about your company’s biggest win in 2016/early 2017.
We’ve recently faced continuous pressure from various competitors in several different product categories. Last year, we maintained our market share against continued off-shore threats. We also celebrated our company’s 75th Anniversary in 2016, culminating in an open house last summer during which we invited our employees, their families and the entire Glencoe community to tour our production and distribution facility.
 
Your company plans for 2017?
We’ll continue our commitment to lean operations, manufacturing efficiencies and our ability to meet evolving marketplace needs. We plan on remaining competitive in the global marketplace while adding to our domestic product offerings.
 
Are you hiring? If so, for what?
Yes, Miller is continually looking for top talent in our production and distribution center and has plans to add additional resources in supply chain, sales and marketing.
 
What business challenges do you foresee?
One challenge we have been facing consistently is the labor shortage. We’re growing, so we always have open positions. It’s a topic that comes up often and affects many businesses in Minnesota and across the country.
 
What about opportunities?
Our core customer is the backyard hobbyist, and that segment of the population is growing. Communities are embracing the idea of passing legislation to allow individuals to keep backyard chickens. In addition, our beekeeping supplies line is doing very well, thanks in part to our sister company Kelley Beekeeping Company in Clarkson, Kentucky, and to an increasing awareness of how to help save the bees.
 
What are you most excited about, business-wise, in 2017 and beyond?
We are in our fifth year using the Four Disciplines of Execution approach to our business, which our employees have embraced wholeheartedly, and which we find to be an extremely successful way to run our business. It’s exciting to empower our teams to see what they can achieve when they collaborate and work toward a common Wildly Important Goal.  
 
We’re also committed to U.S. manufacturing. All of our employees are here in the U.S. By keeping manufacturing here, we’re able to respond more quickly to customer demands while streamlining our supply chain and distribution processes.
 
 
Beth Nielsen, CEO, aspectLED
 
 
Tell us about your company’s biggest win in 2016/early 2017.
In 2016, we launched over 80 new products, doubled the size of our team, and secured many exciting new customers, including Boeing, SpaceX, Papa Murphy’s and Honda. And our LED lights played a prominent role on the main stage of the 2017 Grammy Awards.
 
Your company plans for 2017?
We plan to launch around 80-85 new products, and we’ll continue to invest heavily in robotics and automated production equipment for our Arden Hills clean-room production facility. We also plan to complete our “Zero Waste-to-Landfill Initiative” in the first half of the year.
 
Are you hiring? If so, for what?
Absolutely! We’re looking to double the size of our team this year. A few of the positions that we’re currently looking to fill include: inside and outside sales, marketing, production, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, human resources, logistics, customer service, robotics engineers and software development.
 
What business challenges do you foresee?
The biggest challenge facing Minnesota is a growing labor shortage. There are a lot of great companies in Minnesota competing for the top talent in sales, engineering, marketing and production. Minnesota’s construction industry is also booming and many of our customers who are electricians and general contractors are telling us that they can’t take on any more work because they simply can’t find enough qualified people.
 
What about opportunities?
Despite the labor shortage, the booming construction industry creates big opportunities for companies of all types, aspectLED included. We continue to see strong year-over-year growth in single-family residential, multi-unit residential and commercial construction. Each one of those projects requires lighting! Due to LED lights’ energy efficiency and design flexibility, they’re used in more than half of all new projects.
 
What are you most excited about, business-wise, in 2017 and beyond?
Identifying customer needs and developing products that meet those needs. One of the core pillars of our growth has been listening to customers and being willing to work with them to develop LED lighting solutions that address their pain points. We’ve assembled a great team that can rapidly bring new products to market and I’m excited to bring so many new products to market in 2017 and beyond.
 
 
Tom Whisenand, Co-Founder & Director of Operations, Indeed Brewing Company
 
Tell us about your company’s biggest win in 2016/early 2017.
Achieving strong growth with minimal distribution footprint expansion in a quickly saturating craft beer marketplace. We believe that our consistent quality and dedication to our customers is really beginning to pay dividends.
 
Your company plans for 2017?
We plan to introduce some very exciting new beers in 2017 while continuing to grow with our core brands like Day Tripper Pale Ale.
 
Are you hiring? If so, for what?
We are hiring for a couple of production positions in 2017 as well as some sales positions.
 
What business challenges do you foresee?
For Indeed, the top challenge is continuing to compete and win in an increasingly crowded brewery market.
 
What about opportunities?
Despite being a top-five craft brewery in Minnesota, our brewery still sells less than one percent of the beer that all of the large domestic breweries like Anheuser Busch sell cumulatively. That means a lot of people left to discover our brand and our dedication to quality beer right here in Minnesota.
 
What are you most excited about, business-wise, in 2017 and beyond?
Just continuing to watch our amazing staff rise to the occasion, grow as leaders in the industry, and demonstrate integrity throughout all of our business operations.
 
 
Michelle Squire, General Manager, Talon Innovations (FL) Corporation
 
Tell us about your company’s biggest win in 2016/early 2017.
During Q4 2016 and Q1 2017, our company witnessed over 300% demand for our services.  This increase in demand tells us that our customers greatly rely on the value that we provide to them.
 
What are your company plans for 2017?
Based on the increased demand for our manufacturing capabilities, we have been adding employees and machines at our Minnesota and Florida plants.  We continue to partner with colleges and high schools to share the Talon story and help build interest for high-skilled careers in machining, engineering and related occupations.
 
Are you hiring? If so, for what?
We are hiring machinists on all shifts, including weekends, plus support roles such as buyers, planners, shipping and clean-room staff.
 
What business challenges do you foresee?
Our biggest challenge is finding talent to keep up with the demand we are seeing. Many Minnesota companies in our industry are experiencing growth, which is great, but it means that we are going after the same labor pool.
 
What about opportunities?  
With the amount of demand that we are seeing, we have opportunities to partner with other suppliers to help achieve these incredibly large growth rates. These partnerships will help Minnesota’s economy as a whole.
 
What are you most excited about, business-wise, in 2017 and beyond?  
We are excited about the challenge of achieving the growth rates that we are being asked to achieve, and to provide meaningful careers for our community.
 
 
Sarah Atchison, Owner & CEO, Midwest Fire Equipment & Repair Company
 
Tell us about your company’s biggest win in 2016/early 2017.
In 2016, we made great progress in our Lean and Continuous Improvement initiatives. We saw improved operational processes and improvements to both our product design and the overall production timeline for our projects. Our trucks routinely serve a community for decades, so they must be tough, durable and dependable. We focus on quality for good reason, but we also need to work to build our trucks in the most efficient way possible.
 
Your company plans for 2017?
The cost of a fire truck has become so incredibly high that many departments feel they have no choice but to buy used apparatus. The trade-off against cost is often firefighter safety and the overall function of the truck. Midwest Fire is committed to designing and building high-quality, cost-effective apparatus that allows Fire Departments serving every community to fight fires with state-of-the-art equipment that incorporates the most up-to-date safety features. This year, we’re offering an innovative pumper-truck design that is priced up to 50 percent less than competing trucks.
 
Are you hiring? If so, for what?
Due to strong growth realized over the past three years, we are hiring an additional account representative for our sales team. We expect to continue to add to our production team as well.
 
What business challenges do you foresee?
2017 is shaping up to be a year of uncertainty as a new, very different, administration settles into Washington, D.C. The Minnesota economy and the people of Minnesota are resilient and flexible so I’m confident we will find a good way forward. Aging infrastructure, including fire halls and fire equipment throughout Minnesota and the United States, is a financial challenge — but also represents a generational opportunity to invest in and improve our communities.
 
What about opportunities?
As an entrepreneur, I see opportunities everywhere. I’m encouraged by the talk of reduced regulation, tax reform, comprehensive infrastructure upgrades and an improved focus on supporting small business.
 
What are you most excited about, business-wise, in 2017 and beyond?
Our strategy is to find the best way forward, to build things and to make things better. I think this is the best time ever to be a woman involved in small business. After far too long a period of disinterest in or even disdain for manufacturing, the United States seems to have remembered that designing and building things is an incredibly valuable foundational component of a healthy economy. So, I’m encouraged and excited to be engaged with a great company and a great team serving extraordinary people in fire departments throughout North America. Life is good!