Features

Winners of the 2014 Manufacturing Awards by Minnesota Business Magazine

Recognizing the people and companies making strides in the state’s manufacturing sector

By Caitlin Hill
09-19-2014

As one of Minnesota’s largest industries, manufacturing represents about 15 percent of the state’s gross domestic product. With manufacturers spanning a wide variety of areas and specialties, from medical devices to satellite antennas to craft beer, the industry is essential to the state’s economic health. Though there are many Minnesota-based individuals and companies making strides in the industry, following are some of the most noteworthy ones, recognized by this year’s judging panel for excellence in areas such as strategy, productivity, and innovation.

 

Meet the judges
Manufacturer of the Year Award
Best in Class: Small Company
Best in Class: Midsize Company
Best in Class: Large Company
Sustainability Award
Image Award
Employee Training Award
Executive of the Year Award
Emerging Leader Award
Professional Services Dream Team
Lifetime Achievement Award

Meet the judges

E.J. Daigle:

E.J. Daigle is the dean of manufacturing at Dunwoody College of Technology, managing a department made up of six core manufacturing programs and 400 full-time students. Prior to Dunwoody, Daigle served as a missile technician in the U.S. Navy for 11 years.

Marni Hockenberg:

Marni Hockenberg is the founder of Hockenberg Search, a Minnetonka-based retained search firm that specializes in the manufacturing industry. During her 20-year career as a talent acquisition specialist, Hockenberg has partnered with companies to build high-performing teams, and has also founded two manufacturing networking groups.

Dan Meyer:

Dan Meyer is the president and majority owner of International Precision Machining in St. Cloud. He also serves on the board of directors of the Minnesota Precision Manufacturing Association as president.

Jaime Nolan:

Jaime Nolan, CAE, is founder and CEO of IntrinXec Management, a Minneapolis-based association management company providing services to trade associations and professional societies. She also serves as an adviser to the boards for each IntrinXec client and is the executive director of theMinnesota Precision Manufacturing Association.​ 

Kirby Sneen:

Kirby Sneen is the Vice President of the Manufacturers Alliance, an association of 400 MN manufacturing companies collaborating to share best practices on a peer-to-peer basis.  He has toured and benchmarked several hundred MN manufacturing companies and co-developed the association's Lean Leader Certification program.
 

Jacquie Dutton Strebe:

Jacquie Dutton Strebe is the director of client services at YFY Jupiter, a global packaging manufacturer based in Asia. She has spent more than a decade working in product development roles for manufacturing companies in the consumer electronics and office supply industries.

Manufacturer of the Year Award

Recognizes a company for achieving the highest degree of excellence in the manufacturing industry in Minnesota

Recipient: Sign-Zone

Since January 2013, sign and visual display manufacturer Sign-Zone has introduced 115 new products to the market, many of which were internally designed. Sign-Zone has repeatedly received many awards and top honors in the manufacturing industry, including being named to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies every year since 2007. Throughout its growth, Sign-Zone continues to make improvements to its business and processes. One example was obtaining and retaining the difficult-to-achieve IDEAlliance G7 Master Qualification in 2011. Additionally, three years ago the company created its first quality team. Now consisting  of nine members, it inspects 10 percent of every inbound shipment to ensure products meet quality standards. To accommodate its recent growth, Sign-Zone will be moving all of its non-manufacturing employees to its new Brooklyn Center facility, and its current Ramsey-based location will be used to consolidate and grow its manufacturing capabilities.

Best in Class: Small Company

Recognizes a small company (1-50 employees) for overall excellence in the manufacturing industry in Minnesota

Gold: Jet Edge

Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, Jet Edge has become known worldwide for ultra-high-pressure waterjet systems used in precision-cutting, mobile-cutting, and cleaning applications. Over the past several years, Jet Edge has worked hard to develop innovative products, enter new markets, and increase awareness of its manufacturing capabilities. Major achievements include its new 75,000-PSI pump technology, five-axis waterjet cutting system, and its 2010 collaboration with sister company Chukar Waterjet to help address the Gulf of Mexico oil spill by developing a waterjet system to blast away hydrates clogging a containment system. Last year, Jet Edge introduced two ultra-high-pressure waterjet systems designed for use in rural areas with limited electricity.

 

Silver: Midwest Industrial Tool Grinding, Inc. (MITGI)

A manufacturer of standard and custom cutting tools, Midwest Industrial Tool Grinding, Inc. has grown in many ways over the past few years. Its accomplishments include moving into a new 20,000-square-foot facility, doubling the number of employees, tripling the amount of manufacturing equipment, and increasing sales by 35 percent year-over-year on average. MITGI tools are used by many research and development departments and various companies and manufacturing facilities across an array of industries, including medical devices, aerospace, and automotive. The Hutchinson-based company has also worked to inspire the next generation of manufacturing talent by providing on-site tours for students, visiting classrooms, participating in advisory boards, attending manufacturing expos, and awarding scholarships for students entering the industry. 

Bronze: TSI Plastics

Serving the industry for more than 50 years, TSI Plastics has become known for its excellence in quality plastics fabrication. Today it’s a leading manufacturer for precision-molded plastic components in the aerospace, military, computer, electronic, medical, food service, and construction industries across the nation. The Minneapolis-based company has seen an average 14 percent year-over-year, top-line growth over the past three years. It has also increased its full-time staff by 20 percent and broadened its client base with new, high-profile customers. Additionally, the company has expanded its capabilities to include aerospace-specialized precision CNC milling and turning, injection molding, rotational molding, thermoforming, die cutting, and mechanical assembly capabilities.

Best in Class: Midsize Company

Recognizes a midsize company (51 to 250 employees) for overall excellence in the manufacturing industry in Minnesota

Gold: Summit Brewing Company

Making its mark on Minnesota’s craft beer movement, Summit Brewing Company has seen continued success over the past few years while establishing high standards and utilizing modern technology in its production processes. Some of its noteworthy achievements of late include a $7 million cellar expansion, which enabled the brewery to double its production and continue its steady growth in Minnesota and regionally. The St. Paul–based company also installed a state-of-the-art canning line and beer pipeline in its new facility. The expansion allows the brewery to continue to add new jobs in addition to the 20 full-time and 16 part-time positions that were added in the past few years. All of these improvements have helped the brewery increase sales by 9 percent annually over the past two years. 

Silver: Mendell

Since its inception in 1964, medical manufacturer Mendell has specialized in precision CNC machining of implantable devices, surgical instruments, and diagnostic equipment. Today, the company focuses on creating components for orthopedic and cardiovascular devices, among others. In the past year, Mendell has invested in several state-of-the-art vision inspection systems that enhance its ability to precisely inspect product dimension and quality during the machining process. President and CEO Bryan Bartz is committed to innovating and improving the company’s manufacturing and business processes and is currently implementing a new enterprise resource planning system and quality inspection technology to help better serve customers now and in the future. 

Bronze: King

Founded in 1985 as a manufacturer of electronic controls for diesel engines, King’s approach to manufacturing remains the same: make things simple, better, and easier to enjoy. Today, the company specializes in making enclosed HD-ready satellite antennas and digital over-the-air antennas for use on RVs, campers, and semi tractors, to name a few. In 2011, King launched the Tailgater satellite antenna — a fully automatic, self-enclosed antenna that works seamlessly with a Dish satellite receiver. The product helped the company expand its market and open new revenue opportunities, and it also won a Consumer Electronics Show award in 2012 for its design. King has stayed focused on investing in new product designs and market development. As a result, today more than 90 percent of its total revenue is from products launched within the past five years.

Best in Class: Large Company

Recognizes a large company (250-plus) for overall excellence in the manufacturing industry in Minnesota

Gold: Skyline Exhibits

Skyline Exhibits, a manufacturer of portable trade show displays and modular exhibits, has continued to show its aptitude for innovation over the years, most recently with its Skyline WindScape product. Launched in 2013, Sklyine WindScape is the world’s first air-powered exhibit system, making it easy to transport. This year, WindScape received a Buyers Choice Award, recognizing it as one of the best new products at the Exhibitor trade show. Most recently, St. Paul–based Skyline reached a distribution agreement with global event display company Expand International to promote and distribute the product outside of the U.S. and Canada. And in July 2013, it launched its Creative Services Group, which offers creative content services to its dealers and their clients, thus expanding its offerings as a complete exhibit designer and manufacturer. 

Silver: Turck

A manufacturer of factory and process automation technology, Turck continues to be an established player in Minnesota’s manufacturing industry, as it has for the past 40 years. In 2012, it finished a 47,000-square-foot expansion at its Plymouth production facility. Investing $5.5 million into what it refers to as The Tech Park, the company doubled its space and hired 50 new employees. The facility allows Turck to continue innovating. For instance, it recently launched its military-specified over-molded cordset. Widely used at oil and gas sites, it diminishes the risk of incorrect wiring, decreases the need for manual labor on repairs, and saves money. Furthermore, the company continues to work on product innovations that help plants operate more efficiently and engineers stay safer in the field.

Bronze: Uponor

Apple Valley–based Uponor manufactures plumbing, fire safety, radiant heating and cooling systems, hydronic distribution piping, and pre-insulating piping systems. In November 2013, in response to the high demand for its PEX tubing, the company finalized the expansion of its production floor by more than 18,000 square feet. It also effectively adapted and implemented a lacquer technology derived from the paper industry to its PEX tubing, which was a first in the industry. The company values reaching out to future manufacturing talent and has partnered with local school districts and technical colleges, as well as the Manufacturers Alliance and Enterprise Minnesota. It’s one of six companies that participate in an internship program to expand training for the next generation as part of a $2.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Sustainability Award

Recognizes manufacturers for successfully implementing initiatives to produce their parts or products in a way that’s better for the environment

Gold: Vision-Ease Lens

For the past 84 years, Ramsey-based Vision-Ease Lens has been a leading ophthalmic lens manufacturer in Minnesota. In the early 2000s, the company started looking for ways to become more environmentally friendly. For the next eight years, it set a new sustainability standard for manufacturing in the lens industry by integrating environmentally responsible products and practices. Branding these efforts as Pursuing Rapid Improvements for Sustainable Manufacturing (PRISM), Vision-Ease Lens has reduced its paper and box carton use, improved ventilation, minimized the use of chemicals in the plating chrome, and improved the water system. As of 2008, all products made at its Ramsey headquarters are manufactured with 100 percent renewable energy, and to date the company has reduced its carbon emissions by approximately 98 percent.

Silver: Litin Paper

Minneapolis-based packaging and paper manufacturing company Litin Paper has instituted its own internal processes to reduce waste, recycle materials, and lower its carbon footprint. The company recycles all of its paper waste with the help of Pioneer Paper in Minneapolis. Litin Paper has also installed low-energy lighting throughout its 110,000-square-foot facility, complete with motion sensors to turn off the lights in unused areas. The company makes sure to educate employees about its sustainability efforts, training them in sorting various waste materials. The company has also brought its sustainable practices to customers by offering eco-friendly products and packaging materials, and has even created a separate division focused on its eco-friendly products called LitinEco

Bronze: Sage Electrochromics

Dynamic-glass manufacturer Sage Electrochromics has made sustainability a priority and been able to save energy costs. The company’s new 324,000-square-foot, high-volume facility in Faribault exemplifies its efforts to be green. More than 85 percent of the wood used for things like cabinets, moldings, and trim was certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. And to improve indoor air quality, Sage used low-emitting adhesives, sealants, paints, and other coatings, while the interior space is ventilated with fresh outdoor air at a rate of 30 percent higher than the minimum required. Sustainability was a focus during the construction process, as general contractor Ryan Companies was able to divert more than 50 percent of the construction waste from the landfill.

Image Award

Recognizes an organization for improving the industry’s image and showing the appeal of careers in manufacturing

Gold: Midwest Industrial Tool Grinding, Inc. (MITGI)

Hutchinson-based Midwest Industrial Tool Grinding, Inc. has been making standard and custom cutting tools for more than 20 years. The company is using its years of experience to not only build a profitable enterprise, but also to inspire youth to explore careers in the industry. It believes that getting more students to enroll in manufacturing programs is the first step to creating a thriving pool of good candidates. Through on-site tours, classroom visits, presentations at manufacturing expos, and participation in advisory groups, it’s helping to expose elementary through high school students and their parents to the types of jobs that are available in the expanding industry. MITGI also cultivates relationships with local community and technical colleges, donates tools and equipment, provides scholarships and paid internships, and participates in advisory boards with the hope of influencing the effectiveness of manufacturing programs.

Silver: Top Tool

As a leader in manufactured complex miniature medical devices for more than 45 years, Minneapolis-based Top Tool makes great efforts to expose young people to the industry. It partners with colleges to help strengthen their program relevance and performance from a real-world perspective. It also brings expertise and resources to the curriculum, and helps by providing specialized program development. Additionally, it gives young people a taste of manufacturing through internship programs with the community, as well as an apprenticeship program that is in its beginning stages. It’s also taken its commitment to the industry one step further by trying to change the public’s view of manufacturing. Top Tool meets with policymakers to discuss critical issues, such as the skills gap and workforce shortage.

Bronze: VistaTek

Stillwater-based VistaTek manufactures parts, products, and tooling for more than 2,000 companies in such industries as electronics, medical devices, and agricultural equipment. But more than that, it’s making a point to educate young people about manufacturing careers. VistaTek has made workforce development a priority by working with local community colleges to develop training programs and by helping educate high-school students about the industry. The small company has brought hundreds of students into its facility to get them excited about manufacturing in the U.S. It’s recently started an internship program for students interested in careers. To host educational events and seminars, VistaTek built a 6,000-square-foot “Tek Center” in which it has hosted training sessions for companies (including 3M and Target) and various colleges and high schools.

Employee Training Award

Recognizes a company for excellence in helping Minnesota-based employees improve their manufacturing skills

Gold: Talon Innovations

Precision metal manufacturer Talon Innovations has experienced tremendous growth in sales and profits over the past few years. With that came a growing number of employees, from 65 in early 2012 to 137 two years later. One of its greatest achievements has been its ability to bring on so many new employees and help them gain the necessary skills that benefit not only Talon’s growth, but also their own careers. Hiring many people with minimal experience in machining, Talon has worked with its employees on increasing their skills over the past 12 to 18 months. It’s done this by partnering with St. Cloud Tech Community College. Combining a training grant from the Minnesota Job Skills Partnership with its own investment in training, Talon has been able to handle quick growth — and has seen many signs of success. 

Silver: MultiSource Manufacturing

Founded in 1998, Minnetonka-based MultiSource Manufacturing offers a broad range of capabilities, from engineering and complex machining to plastic fabrication and food equipment. Since its inception, the company has experienced steady growth and now operates at five locations in two states, with nearly 260 employees. Over the past 14 months, MultiSource has spent more than $500,000 on employee training. And in 2012, Anoka-Ramsey Community College was awarded a $265,000 Minnesota Job Skills Partnership grant with MultiSource in which, over the following two years, the college provided training at four locations in the Twin Cities area. Coupled with its large capital investments and acquisitions, MultiSource has been able to drastically grow both its talent and the type of work its employees can do, providing what the company sees as a strategic advantage over its competition.

Bronze: TSI Plastics

Plastics manufacturer TSI Plastics knows that investing in its people is essential to consistent growth and overall improvement. That’s why it’s been making significant investments in its people and processes. The company has been investing in ways to elevate professionalism, decrease dependence on individuals, and provide the team with the best possible tools and environment. And with its continual top-line increase over the past three years, as well as its growing number of employees, that investment seems to be paying off. Some ways the company has done this is by implementing a formal training program, as well as leadership development courses covering conflict management, performance management, interpersonal and team effectiveness, and organizational development, plus ongoing CEO development by way of peer advisory.

Executive of the Year Award

Awarded to an experienced industry leader (10-plus years) who has made major accomplishments in Minnesota’s manufacturing industry in the past few years

Gold: John Bruellman, President and CEO, Sign-Zone

Garnering a 20-year business career, much of which has been spent in the manufacturing industry, John Bruellman joined Showdown Displays, a division of Sign-Zone, in 2006 as president. As a result of his excellent leadership, Bruellman became president and CEO of Sign-Zone in 2011. In addition to leading the company to strong financial results, Bruellman is known for exemplifying the company’s core values of passion for excellence, accountability, respect, innovation, teamwork, and integrity. One such example is when he developed the company’s “Unsung Hero Award” so he could personally recognize deserving behind-the-scenes employees and departments. Sign-Zone employees appreciate Bruellman’s efforts — last year they recognized him with the company’s Outstanding Leadership Award.

Silver: Tim Herold, Co-owner and President, Herold Precision Metals

As co-owner and president of Herold Precision Metals, a custom precision sheet metal fabricator, Tim Herold is known for his concern for the customer, getting to know each one and finding out how the company can respond to their needs. Herold stepped in as president of the company in 2011 and has been a strong proponent for the domestic manufacturing community throughout his career. Dedicated to the company’s vocational training efforts, Herold recently started collaborating with an area high school manufacturing program, aiming to help cultivate future talent. Herold is also active in the community, serving as president of the Moundsview Youth Hockey Association, for instance.

Bronze: Jo Reinhardt, CEO, Industrial Louvers

Jo Reinhardt began her career with architectural metals fabricator Industrial Louvers in 1982. She held various positions before stepping into her current CEO role in 1999. In that position, Reinhardt has been able to build a sustainable and lasting business model. In 1999, she was elected to the board of directors for the Air Movement and Control Association, a nonprofit international association of the world’s manufacturers of air system equipment, in which she served for eight years. She currently serves on the board of directors for Precision Air Products Company and on the advisory board of Business & Estate Advisors. She is also a founding member of WiNGS, a women’s business and networking group.

Emerging Leader Award

Awarded to an individual who has entered a leadership role within Minnesota’s manufacturing industry within the past five years, made significant accomplishments, and appears poised for further success

Gold: Rusty Callier, Director of Operations, Uponor

Over the past 15 years, Rusty Callier has gone from being the ISO/safety coordinator to the director of operations at Uponor North America, a PEX tubing manufacturer. With an ability to make sustainable choices in manufacturing, Callier has helped Uponor become a high-quality operation that has received much recognition. Callier is also one of three founders of the company’s sustainability team, a member of its recognition program, and a champion of its operational excellence initiative. While in his role, he has created and implemented the company’s Operations Personnel Demand Program and has improved its variable production costs by 22 percent over the past four years. Callier is also passionate about educating young people about the industry, participating in many school programs focused on manufacturing.

Silver: Mindy Martell, President, Clothier Design Source

Since starting apparel development and manufacturing company Clothier Design Source in 2006, owner and president Mindy Martell has started to make her mark on the state’s clothing manufacturing sector with her innovative ideas. Martell developed the company as a way to help entrepreneurs bring their designs to life and get them out on a store floor. She’s grown the company by more than 60 percent over the past four years and increased the number of employees from four to 22 in the past five. Under her leadership, the company snagged a 2013 Top Innovator award by Apparel magazine. Martell is a board member of The Maker’s Coalition, a group committed to the education and training of industrial sewers. 

Bronze: Mitch Jacobs, Senior Vice President, Finance and Operations, V-Tek

As the senior VP of finance and operations at V-Tek, a maker of electronic component packaging and processing solutions, Mitch Jacobs views every position and task as important. He’s known for listening to employee concerns and ideas and providing clear direction. He’s helped streamline business processes related to accounting, purchasing, manufacturing, and HR while generating cost savings, helping improve employee morale, and increasing customer satisfaction. He works with other organizations to help improve the industry, especially the quality of the state’s workforce.

Professional Services Dream Team

Recognizes excellence in professional services offered to the manufacturing industry

Insurance: Hanratty & Associates

Hanratty & Associates is a unique family-owned insurance agency that provides employee benefits consulting, third-party administration, human resources, and financial services, among other custom products. In business for more than 30 years, it seeks to build lasting partnerships with clients. It’s done just that with Herold Precision Metals, for instance. The agency was able to identify key areas of concern for the manufacturer and then help its leadership team figure out how to provide a superior benefits package for employees. Hanratty & Associates has continued to be a key element of the manufacturer’s recruitment efforts in a competitive industry.

Law: Gray Plant Mooty

Gray Plant Mooty offers a range of comprehensive legal services to clients around the world, including many Minnesota manufacturing companies. Its lawyers represent manufacturers in a variety of situations, from misappropriation of trade secrets to joint ventures and asset sales and purchases. The Minneapolis-based law firm also makes a strong effort to understand the current state and trends of the manufacturing industry. Each year it partners with Enterprise Minnesota to conduct the annual State of Manufacturing survey, which provides information on the manufacturing outlook and the industry’s top issues. Doing so helps give Gray Plant Mooty attorneys crucial insights into Minnesota’s manufacturing industry.

Real Estate: Gannett Peak Partners

Real estate company Gannett Peak Partners supports the state’s manufacturing industry by helping companies look at real estate in terms of a long-term strategic growth plan. It understands that manufacturing is a crucial part of Minnesota’s economy and that each manufacturer has unique real estate needs. One company that benefited from its services was Rayven, which makes coating and laminating products. After conducting a value proposition analysis and understanding the client’s long-term real estate goals, Gannett Peak Partners started searching for suitable sites. After comparing various federal, state, and local incentives, the firm secured a site in Owatonna and went on to provide project management support and oversight of the construction work for the company’s new 30,000-square-foot building.

Lifetime Achievement Award

Awarded to an individual who has made major accomplishments in Minnesota’s manufacturing industry and contributed to the advancement of the industry for at least 20 years

Recipient: Frederick M. Zimmerman , University of St. Thomas

pillar in the Minnesota manufacturing community, Frederick M. Zimmerman, professor emeritus at the University of St. Thomas, helped found the university’s school of engineering as a department in 1985 and continued to lead the department for 10 years after that. When he retired from teaching in 2006, he received the university’s Distinguished Service Award. Prior to academia, Zimmerman held engineering and management positions at multiple companies, including IBM, Control Data, and National Computer Systems. He also served on boards for many corporations and has acted as an advisor to labor, government, and business groups. Over the years he has authored three books, the most recent being Manufacturing Works: The Vital Links between Production and Prosperity, which discusses the relationship between manufacturing and community prosperity.