The 2013 Minnesota Business Manufacturing Awards

Honoring manufacturers that distinguish themselves through productivity, innovation, and bold new strategies

Hailing from across the state and making a difference for customers around the world, Minnesota's manufacturers work hard every day to provide exceptional quality and service. Whether they specialize in precision grinding machines or leather work boots, the state's manufacturers distinguish themselves through productivity, innovation, and bold new strategies. Thanks to all who submitted nominations. And to every Minnesota manufacturer producing quality parts and products: We salute you!



Best overall achievement (revenue under $25 million)

Winner: Modern Molding

Custom injection molding company Modern Molding makes engineered plastic parts for OEMs. Manufacturing its own parts and a variety of others according to its customers' specifications, the company serves the agriculture, construction, telecommunications, and electronics industries, among others.

Delano-based Modern Molding has worked to become a one-stop shop for its customers. The company's engineering staff has the capability to help customers design parts and tools for the injection molding process that will be capable for a long period of time.

"We design for manufacturability before the sale," says operations manager Eric Seebeck.

The company utilizes its full-service tool room to not only service its own machines on the production floor, but also to turn quick prototypes for customers that may need to test a theory about how a part works. Modern Molding also uses its tool room to do secondary operations, such as welding and drilling, that a customer might not want to do at its own facilities.

Modern Molding has seen double-digit growth since 2001. The company has spent a lot of time and energy developing its quality system, and, as a result, has become a partner supplier to many companies. In 2011, Modern Molding increased its production facility from 22,000 to 58,000 square feet, giving it room to grow.

Part of Modern Molding's growth is a result of CEO and president Doug Portmann's reinvestment into the company, Seebeck explains. In 2001, the company started out with 15 machines. Since then, it has replaced about half of the machines, added two additional ones, and expanded its tool room.

"[He] has made some significant investments in technology, in our facility, and in people - and it's really paid off," Seebeck says.

Finalist: Dynamic Group

What started as a two-man mold-making shop more than 40 years ago has grown into a manufacturing company that employs almost 100 people in the design and production of precision injection molds and, more recently, in injection molding and assembly. Today, Dynamic Group does about 85 percent of its work in the medical industry, where it's had great success with all sizes of companies.

"We led the transformation from traditional mold making to mold manufacturing by being one of the first shops to departmentalize, becoming the first mold shop to be ISO certified, and implementing lean practices and enterprise resource planning software early on," CEO Dave Kalina says.

Dynamic Group reported a 20-percent increase in revenue for the first half of 2013, coming from both existing and new programs. Kalina says the key to consistent growth has been the development retention of the best professional manufacturing team in the industry. Additionally, the Ramsey-based company has plans to adopt and drive new technologies by making significant investments in research and development. With the execution of this plan, it projects to double sales in less than three years.

The company has been recognized as a world leader in the power injection mold market for many years. Most recently, leadership made the decision to provide injection molding and assembly, which drastically reduces the time to market for its customers.

Finalist: Ameristar Manufacturing

Ameristar Manufacturing began as a short-run stamping company in 1908. Now, more than 100 years later, the same company has grown to also provide long-run stamping, tool building, sheet metal fabrication, machining, welding, assembly, and laser and water-jet cutting to major OEMs within a variety of diverse industries.

The Mankato-based company is also making a difference in its community by working with local high schools through its welding internship program, as well as vocational schools through its CNC internship program. "This is an important way to not only work with young people that are interested in this type of work, but also to seek out people that may not be aware of what we do, and hopefully, create some interest in metal fabrication and machining," says Kevin Heutmaker, vice president of sales and marketing.

Ameristar Manufacturing continues to invest in its employees on a daily basis through its expanded employee training program, in which the company sends people to get technical training in quality systems, CNC programming, and machining so they can keep up with new software and technologies. The company has also facilitated an in-house employee training program to help improve its processes and monitor progress.

"We feel this is key to our future," Heutmaker says. "Technology is changing at an increasing rate, and the need to work more smartly and be competitive is a requirement to stay in business for the next 100 years."


Best overall achievement (revenue between $25 and $75 million)

Winner: Sign-Zone

Ramsey-based Sign-Zone manufactures and supplies visual communication and event and display merchandise through a portfolio of brands that includes Showdown Displays and Creative Banner Assemblies.

The company takes its mission statement ("great products, legendary customer experiences") seriously. This is particularly evident in its strong guarantees around product quality and 100-percent on-time delivery.

Such commitment has resulted in the company's place on the Inc. 5000 list  which recognizes the fastest-growing privately held companies in the United States  for the past six years.

"Through these service commitments, we have built strong relationships with our existing customers," president and CEO John Bruellman says. "We also pursue new customers (resellers) primarily through educational sessions, which focus on helping them grow their business."

From 2009 to date, Sign-Zone reported a growth rate of 24 percent. It has added more than 100 full-time jobs in the past five years. And with a strong focus on innovation, the company also develops and introduces an average of 50 new products each year.

"Many of these [new products] come from our own employees through a world-class innovation program known as Operation Innovation," Bruellman says.

Meanwhile, Sign-Zone nurtures its reputation as a great place to work by facilitating a variety of employee recognition programs, recognizing company success with rewards, and maintaining transparency with employees on a regular basis. Bruellman notes that almost all company performance information is shared with Sign-Zone employees.

The employees extend these same sorts of values into the community through their involvement with, for example, the Junior Achievement program, in which more than 50 Sign-Zone employees volunteer to teach business concepts in local elementary schools.


Finalist: Multi-Tech Systems

Multi-Tech Systems, a global manufacturer of award-winning unified communications and device networking products, has been delivering industry-leading machine-to-machine communication solutions since 1970. Multi-Tech prides itself on being able to work with any development team to customize a hardware or software solution that maximizes speed to market and return on investment.

But, Multi-Tech wouldn't be able to reach the high standards of quality and customer service it adheres to without the help of its highly trained workforce. The company's workers maintain an average tenure of more than 15 years, and many of them are cross-trained.

Multi-Tech recently partnered with AT&T and Verizon on the sales side to connect with customers who approach the carriers looking for quick-to-market solutions. "Multi-Tech has many new business partnerships that strengthen our ability to provide more complete solutions and services to our customers," says marketing communications manager Gina O'Connell.

These partnerships result in a win for the customer with a good solution, a win for the carrier to sell more service, and a win for Multi-Tech to sell products and services.

Sustainability is also important to the Mounds View–based company. This can be seen in its recycling programs, manufacturing processes that produce no hazardous sewage products, and a new energy management system that produces fewer Class I and Class II carbon dioxide emissions.


Finalist: Bolger

Bolger is a solutions-based printing company that has been serving a number of different industries for nearly 80 years, offering services like commercial printing, digital printing on demand, technology solutions, mailing, and distribution.

Employing 185 people at its two Minneapolis locations, Bolger prides itself on providing unique technology solutions for its customers. Bolger application developers build solutions customized to client needs. For instance, Bolger created its SmartQ tool after finding that off-the-shelf programs were not always applicable to the needs of its clients. The SmartQ tool is a print management system that can be customized with numerous features, such as order entry and warehousing, management of direct mail campaigns, customized reporting and tracking, and more. The system can also be integrated into the existing technology of customer workflows.

"As a team, Bolger looks at products and services that customers, both current and potential, can utilize to be effective in everyday communication," says CEO dik Bolger. 

Bolger's commitment to quality also helps set the company apart both locally and nationally. Bolger was the first company in North America to have a KBA 105 10 color UV perfecting press, which allows the company to provide high-quality printing for commercial fashion clients, catalogs, and other publications.

Bolger also received 23 awards for its industry excellence at the recent Printing Industry of the Midwest Star of Excellence Gala.


Best overall achievement (revenue of $75 million or higher)

Winner: BTD

Founded in 1979, BTD provides a spectrum of custom metalwork services, including metal fabrication, welding, machining, and stamping. The Detroit Lakes–based manufacturer employs more than 800 employees and runs five plants in three Minnesota cities, serving such high-profile companies as Polaris, Toro, and 3M.

In the past five years, BTD has more than doubled its sales. It's added capabilities and locations to become a complete manufacturing solution supplier for large OEMs. BTD acquired Pro Engineering in 2007 and Miller Welding in 2008, and added its Ostego location in 2009, which drastically expanded the company's capabilities. BTD has grown to be more than just a supplier, though. It also advises and helps OEMs on product design, and on creating and presenting design guidelines.

The company recently won accounts with Honda and Denso, which have helped bring a new perspective to the business  and opportunities to break into the global market even more.

"Honda brings to the table experience and the accountability of a very large, diversified global organization," says business development manager Chris Kambeitz.

The company also recently acquired a 200,000-square-foot plant that hosts robots and assembly.

And BTD made the decision to go paperless on the shop floor, combining three databases into one. This decision was made after determining that the company's core documents and processes could be combined electronically, making for a seamless integration and providing real-time data tracking throughout all of its facilities.

Finalist: Skyline Exhibits

Since the company's humble beginnings in 1980  it started out of founder Gordon Savoie's car  Skyline Exhibits has grown into an international manufacturing company that operates 120 design centers in more than 30 countries. It employs about 300 staff and has a network of a thousand or so independent dealer employees.

The St. Paul–based manufacturer of trade show displays and portable exhibits has racked up a number of recent accomplishments. One is the Outstanding Corporate Innovator Award, which was awarded to Skyline Exhibits by the Product Development and Management Association last year.

"We are the smallest company to ever win that award," says marketing communications manager Steve Jahr. "I think it shows the value of our manufacturing and design."

Over the past few years, Skyline Exhibits has maintained aggressive product development strategies to keep its growth steady, even during the down economy. The company has developed several new products over the past five to six years; 24 percent of its revenue now comes from systems that didn't exist five years ago.

It also recently launched Skyline WindScape, an inflatable, portable, all-in-one display setup. The system allows exhibitors to manage their entire display through one easy-to-transport container. "It's starting to take off and people are loving it," Jahr says.


Finalist: Red Wing Shoe Company

Red Wing Shoe Company continues to stay true to its longstanding tradition of manufacturing handmade work shoes while forging into new markets with its Heritage fashion line and personal protective equipment line. Since its inception in 1905, the Red Wing–based shoe manufacturer has become an international company with distribution in 110 countries across the globe.

"Our international business is nearly 25 percent of our business, which is doubled from 10 years ago," says president and CEO Dave Murphy.

In addition to growing its international distribution in recent years, Red Wing has also tapped into new markets; for instance, it now supplies safety-toe footwear for workers at wind farms and Tesla Motors, among others. "While we're 108 years old, we serve new contemporary industries as well as longstanding ones," Murphy says.

Throughout its expansion, Red Wing has maintained its commitment to quality and handmade craftsmanship. The company continues to use high-quality products for its shoes, each day receiving fresh cow hides from Cargill that are turned into leather. To accommodate growth, the company has moved from a small-batch method to a more continuous manufacturing process.

"We have much more efficiency in our production now," Murphy says. "We are making more shoes with less space than ever before."



Executives of Minnesota-based manufacturers who have demonstrated personal excellence in such areas as industry advocacy, educational encouragement, philanthropy, and employee culture over the course of their career

Winner: Joe Petrich, CFO, Activar

Activar creates, acquires, and builds small to middle-market businesses, primarily in the manufacturing industry. Joe Petrich started with the Minneapolis-based company in 1997 as the general manager of the plastics division. In 2005 he became CFO.

One of his accomplishments since assuming the role was restructuring the company's health and workers' compensation plan. Premiums and work compensation claims were increasing annually at a high rate. As a solution, Petrich helped the company switch to high-deductible plans and develop safety programs. "The primary reason we restructured our health and workers' compensation plans was to assure the safety and welfare of our employees," he says. "The responsibility for safety begins with the company and its employees."

Petrich has dedicated himself to creating a strong foundation for smooth acquisitions and company growth, specifically by cleaning up the "back of the house" operations within the Activar companies. One of his biggest accomplishments in this area has been establishing a single corporate accounting department that encompasses all of the Activar companies, resulting in improved organizational consistency. "My vision was for the operating entities to focus on the manufacturing and marketing of their specific products without needing to be concerned about other things like HR issues and accounting," he explains. "All ‘behind the scenes' functions are now managed at the corporate level."

Petrich has been instrumental in restructuring Activar's debt facilities in the past few years, putting the company in a good position to make an acquisition. He has worked hard to diversify Activar into different markets to build greater stability and generate consistent growth in a fluctuating market.


Finalist: Dave Murphy, President and CEO, Red Wing Shoe Company

Dave Murphy started at Red Wing Shoe Company 12 years ago, after spending 23 years at General Mills. "I came to Red Wing Shoes because of its incredible reputation," he says. "The owners are incredible people with high values, which translate into the culture of the company."

While Murphy contributed his own expertise to help carry on the heritage of the longstanding shoe manufacturer, he also shared the company's passion for its people. He's been able to put that value into action through his commitment to the company's Shoe U and ReBoot programs, which provide employee opportunities for training in hopes of building the leaders of the future. To go a step further, Murphy writes personal notes to all employees on each five-year anniversary.

"We also have programs where we bring dealers and customers in," he says. Murphy has worked to help rebuild and strengthen the company's relationships with its dealers after difficult times, noting that they are critically important to its business. By going out and listening to the dealers' concerns, Murphy was able to help re-establish the Red Wing–based company's reputation.

Murphy attributes much of his success with Red Wing to the culture of the ownership, which values a commitment to its employees and the surrounding community.

Finalist: Chuck Dahlgren, CEO and President, Crystal D

An industry veteran and respected business leader, Chuck Dahlgren started Crystal D - a 50-person company that designs and manufactures corporate recognition awards - in 1993 after working as a CPA and in leadership roles in the farming and commercial general contracting industries.

"The driver behind continuous improvement at Crystal D is keeping our focus on our customers. We believe if we do what is best for our customers, we will win every time," Dahlgren says. "Keeping that in mind has guided our leadership team in striving to improve ourselves and everyone who is on the Crystal D team."

Based on his own personal love of learning, Dahlgren wants employees of Crystal D, based in St. Paul, to have the opportunity to learn and grow in their own careers. To promote this, Crystal D  offers a scholarship for advanced education and degree programs, internal skills training, and manager training. Employees can also take advantage of personal development opportunities, such as conferences and an employee wellness program.

Dahlgren also believes in giving back to the community and encourages Crystal D employees to get involved with organizations such as the Salvation Army, Keystone Food Shelf, Feed My Starving Children, and the American Red Cross.


Manufacturers that are at least 51 percent minority- or woman-owned and have achieved excellence in manufacturing in Minnesota

Winner: Chuck's Grinding

After working for decades in the double-disc grinding business, Chuck Reuter opened the doors ofChuck's Grinding in 1972. Although Reuter passed away in 1996, the Chanhassen-based company's expertise in grinding continues to grow under its current ownership.

Today, Chuck's Grinding  is a privately held woman- and veteran-owned company recognized for its expertise in precision grinding, serving the aerospace, medical, dental, computer, automotive, construction, and manufacturing industries.

Chuck's Grinding continues to grow, recently reporting a 6-percent increase in revenue from the last fiscal year. And with the acquisition of new accounts, the company projects a 25-percent revenue increase for the 2014 fiscal year. Plus, it recently invested in several new machines, including a Blanchard grinder, a double-sided lap, a wire-tapping machine, and state-of-the-art measuring devices, as well as upgraded computer systems.

The company has increased its workforce by 20 percent over the 2012-13 fiscal year. "Chuck's Grinding has a very stable workforce. Many employees have been with us for 10 years or more," says co-owner Jeanne Bloomquist.

The company's workforce is highly trained thanks in part to an in-house program. Through its training process, 70 percent of operators are able to competently produce on two or more machines. "This enables us to respond to increases in business in any department and to changes in our schedule," Bloomquist says.

This fall, the company is rolling out a medical wire express program, which will aim to provide small quantities of wires and mandrels for the medical sector with a turnaround time of 24 to 72 hours.

Finalist: Modern Manufacturing & Engineering

Hue Van Lien started working at Modern Manufacturing & Engineering (mmeincmn.com) in 1983 as a tool crib attendant after graduating from technical college and continued to work his way up to his position today as the company owner. A Vietnam refugee, Lien came to Iowa from an internment camp in his home country.

Purchased by Lien in 1998, the company provides precision custom-machined components and assemblies for a wide variety of applications in the aerospace, commercial, military, and medical industries. In 2005, Lien expanded the production site and started building a new 54,000-square-foot facility in Brooklyn Park. The facility underwent additional expansions in 2008 and 2011 and is where the company operates from today.

Under Lien's leadership, the company has achieved continued growth, reporting approximately $21 million in sales for 2012. The company's 135 employees represent a diverse mix, with a number of minorities holding leadership roles, and a focus on hiring Vietnam refugees.

"Our competitive strategies are to continue to invest in technologies that improve our services, and also to slow our growth to levels that are manageable," says vice president Elroy Cady.

Finalist: Jones Metal Products

Jones Metal Products offers complete metal fabrication solutions for its customers, primarily in the agriculture, power generation, military, construction, renewable energy, and technology industries. The company was founded in 1942 by Mildred M. Jones and remains woman-owned today under the leadership of president and CEO Sarah Richards.

The company facilitates one of the most diverse and accomplished welding programs in the country, providing a range of manufacturing capabilities for its customers. To maintain this quality of service, it's developed an extensive in-house welding training program.

As a fixture on the Mankato business landscape, the company is recognized for its longstanding community involvement and support. "We value the positive role Jones Metal Products has played in the greater Mankato community through the years as an employer and philanthropic entity," says Richards.

The company encourages employees to get involved in their communities and participate with the company in providing in-kind donations of design services, labor, and materials. Among this year's projects were the Tape Maze for the Southern Minnesota Children's Museum and the Mankato Sculpture Walk, for which it provided stainless mounting plates. 


Manufacturers that have been established (or launched their first products) in Minnesota within the past five years or so and are rapidly rising in some notable way

Winner: Canvasback

Established in 1991 in Idaho, Canvasback transitioned to new ownership in 2006 and relocated to Minnesota in 2008. A manufacturer of cargo liners and vehicle second seat covers, Canvasback has experienced tremendous growth in the past few years under the leadership of owner Brooks Chandler.

When Canvasback moved to Minnesota, it employed one contract sewer and one employee sewing in-house in an industrial building. Today, the Spring Park–based company employs four in-house sewers, four contract sewers, one part-time contract sewer, two cutters, and an office manager. The increased staff has helped Canvasback handle the growing number of orders and to get its product out faster.

Since relocating to Minnesota, Canvasback's revenue has tripled. And Chandler is hopeful that the company will quadruple its revenue by the end of the year.

"Part of our growth locally has been working with dealerships," Chandler says. "The dealerships that sell our liners put them on the showroom floor in a car so customers can see them in action."

Chandler attributes the company's growth partially to its customer service. Canvasback tries to accommodate all customer needs, including special cuts or personalized templates for the liners.

The company has also been able to improve its products over the past several years. "When we develop the patterns, we are very particular," she explains. "We have more custom options for individuals that would like special cutouts or production ideas. And we look over our fabric for any flaws before it hits the sewing machine."

As for the future, Canvasback continues to create new patterns and redesign existing ones for changing vehicle models. The company currently offers about 250 configurations or patterns.

Finalist: Silent Power

Based in Baxter, Silent Power manufactures and markets easy-to-install, highly reliable distributed energy storage systems that utilize several types of batteries for the renewable energy and backup power markets. Silent Power began focusing on distributed energy storage about five years ago, and today the company is engaged with more than a dozen utilities around the country, including a significant presence in Minnesota. It was the first manufacturer in the world to obtain UL certification for an energy storage device using lithium ion battery technology (the same kind used in electric vehicles).

"Our system is meant to be remotely operated by electric utilities or by commercial building owners," says CEO John Frederick. "It's typically used to reduce peak electrical consumption on the electric grid, or for a specific customer building."

Public utilities can use the company's energy-storage devices for energy generated by the sun and wind. Since Silent Power began manufacturing the commercial units in 2011, it has been shipping them all over the country, benefiting from an accelerating market for energy storage. The company will also be utilizing a storage rebate program in California to install its equipment into commercial buildings, helping them reduce the demand component of their monthly electric bills.

Finalist: Ultra Green Packaging

In 2007, Cal Krupa and Phil Levin founded Ultra Green Packaging, which manufactures "tree free" fiber products. Ultra Green products are made from highly sustainable agricultural waste products like wheat straw, sugarcane fiber, and bamboo. The company also manufactures bio-plastic products made from cornstarch that are biodegradable, sustainable, and compostable.

Ultra Green Packaging has set itself apart in the fiber packaging industry by manufacturing its products in the U.S. This feat was made possible by the company's purchase of a 130,000-square-foot manufacturing and warehousing facility in Devils Lake, N.D. The facility offers access to low-priced raw materials, low utility rates, an abundance of water, and a stable workforce. "We are creating green jobs at home and giving the local farmers additional income from selling their straw to our plant," says marketing specialist Katie Bradley.

As a result of the new facility, Plymouth-based Ultra Green Packaging has contributed to the creation of a new market for natural fiber containers made from locally grown wheat straw, and has seen tremendous growth and job creation as a result. As the company continues to integrate new technology from world-class equipment vendors, the plant is likely to open other markets for its U.S.-made products, including among government agencies.


Manufacturers that have been in operation for 25-plus years and have recently (in the past five years or so) made a bold new modification to their original business plan

Winner: Circuit Check

Providing custom-engineered test solutions and equipment to the electronics industry, Circuit Checkstarted as a bare board testing service in 1979. As customer needs for test equipment grew more sophisticated, the company came up with innovative new products, processes, and expertise.

One of the ways that Maple Grove–based Circuit Check has stayed competitive is through identifying untapped markets and developing strategies to reach them. After seeing a lot of manufacturing business going to Asia in 2001, Circuit Check looked at its market and decided it had to do something different. In 2007, the company identified and launched its strategy to pursue the functional test systems market.

"We had a pretty good understanding of what it took, and we had to rebuild our team," says president and CEO Greg Michalko. "We had a clear vision of what we wanted to be  and that was a functional test development company."

Circuit Check saw that manufacturing customers weren't eager to give up their design or software to Asian suppliers. They were more interested in working with a company like Circuit Check that had been a reliable test supplier for them in the past.

By 2012, Circuit Check brought in $8 million in revenue in its engineering services department. Circuit Check also bought a company (Cimtek) last August that will help add to its revenue in the same area.

"Circuit Check was really focused on commodity-related business in the past," says Michalko. "We are trying to become less of a commodity-type of company, and much more specialized. We are constantly looking for ways that we don't have to focus on price and lead time."

Finalist: In'Tech Industries

Founded in 1967, Ramsey-based In'Tech Industries manufactures plastic parts and components for the world's leading hearing aid manufacturers. The company also offers contract manufacturing services to manufacturers in the medical, dental, sporting goods, and consumer products industries. 

In October 2012, In'Tech Industries completed an expansion of its rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing center, positioning itself for growth within an emerging industry. The expanded capacity (including six new 3D printing and additive manufacturing systems, added to the existing 14) also offers industrial designers and manufacturing engineers greater flexibility when launching service orders, and provides additional manufacturing solutions for rapid product development challenges.

The company hopes the expansion will help it capture market share in the additive manufacturing and 3D printing services industry. Orders for such services have increased by 200 percent since the expansion was announced, and the company has been able to hire six new employees to keep up with demand. It opened a second additive manufacturing center in July and plans to continue expanding in that arena.

Finalist: Prototype & Production Systems

Founded in 1989, Prototype & Production Systems (PPSI) claims to be the only Minnesota company to manufacture high-speed, single-pass ink-jet printing integration equipment.

As the Plymouth-based company began receiving more requests for custom equipment that incorporated digital inject printing, it had to develop new components. These modular components were common to many of the custom systems PPSI was installing, which is when it saw the opportunity to put them together in a complete modular printing system. Today the company's "digital inkjet color engine" (DICE) printing system enables clients to transform their existing analog printing presses into hybrid, digital web presses. Thanks to DICE, PPSI has become a player in the global digital printing marketplace. "The motivation for producing the DICE system and moving from a consulting business to product-based business is that we see great opportunities for digital printing in well-established printing markets," says CFO Victoria Raymond.

With the implementation of the DICE system, PPSI has established its position in the label production market, and it expects to sell many of the new, faster DICE II model next year. "The packaging market has hardly been touched by digital printing yet," says Raymond.


Manufacturers that have made significant contributions toward training a more skilled manufacturing workforce in Minnesota

Winner: Haberman Machine

A second-generation family business based in Oakdale, Haberman Machine has been specializing in precision machining for the past 70 years. And over the past 10 years, it's been making strides in workforce development in a variety of ways.

"Our country's economic wealth was founded and is maintained on three areas: agriculture, mining, and manufacturing," controller Kim Arrigoni says. "It was an obvious answer to us that in order for our company to continue its legacy into future generations, we needed to give back and provide input on a subject that's vital for our industry and country."

Through involvement with national and local education foundations and association boards, local high schools, and technical colleges, the company provides industry input to help develop the next generation of Minnesota's manufacturing workforce.

One of the ways Haberman Machine has been reaching out to students locally is through school tours. It frequently invites young adults and college-aged students into its facility to get an up-close encounter of what goes on there. "It's not about our company, but about the industry. And this is a great way to make students who love to make things and work with their minds and hands aware of our industry's possibilities," Arrigoni says.

In early 2012, Haberman Machine started an apprenticeship program through the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. The program extended National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) credentials and training to entry-level operators, giving them a chance to become machinists. It was a way for Haberman Machine to fuel its talent pipeline and invest in its current employees at the same time.

"For those employees who want to continue on in this industry," says Arrigoni, "it's a perfect opportunity for them to learn the trade through education, training, and experience."

Finalist: Kellé Company

A leader in the performance dancewear industry, Kellé Company manufactures trend-forward costumes and dancewear for dance recitals and competitions. Established in 1993, the New Hope–based company is helping to revive the skilled workforce of industrial cutters and sewers through its commitment to training programs.

The company recently participated in the development of a program at Dunwoody College of Technology, helping target critical skills that industrial cutters and sewers should possess after completing the program.

The company also provides industry tours to help individuals learn about manufacturing. Along with other businesses and the Dunwoody College of Technology, Kellé helped create a video to educate high school students about the cut and sew industry in Minnesota. Kellé continues to invest in its own employees through webinar training, opportunities to attend industry trade shows and education courses, leadership training, workplace safety and accident prevention courses, and participation in trade organizations.

The company has also created its own "Kellé Sewing Fundamentals" courses for current production employees.


Finalist: Productivity Inc.

In addition to being a distributor of machine tools, fabrication equipment, robotics and automation, and tooling and accessories, Minneapolis-based Productivity Inc. is committed to educating the next generation of the manufacturing workforce.

The company works with the Haas Technical Education Centers (HTEC) and local schools in Minnesota to provide discounts for machinery for students. The company also provides support for related programs. It will co-host next year's National HTEC Conference with the Dunwoody College of Technology in July 2014.

"As an industry, we not only have an opportunity, but also a responsibility to do what we can to encourage today's youth to pursue careers in manufacturing," says Hope Riska, the company's operations and training administrator in applications engineering. "There have been surveys and studies done over the past couple of years, all telling us the same thing. Yes, there is a shortage of skilled workers, but we need to do something about it, not just talk about it."

The company holds an Oktoberfest Machine Tool Show every other year. The first day is dedicated solely to education. Students see the latest manufacturing technology under one roof, and witness firsthand what the machines can do and how manufacturing impacts lives.


Manufacturers that have demonstrated a commitment to eco-friendly technologies and practices, and/or have recently introduced changes that represent eco-oriented improvements over their previous practices

Winner: SAGE Electrochromics

A manufacturer of advanced dynamic glass that can be tinted or cleared to optimize daylight and improve the human experience in buildings, SAGE Electrochromics makes a commitment to sustainability on a daily basis  most recently, through its new high-volume manufacturing (HVM) facility.

The HVM facility is used to produce SageGlass in high volumes and large commercial architectural sizes at an affordable cost. The HVM stands 28 percent better than the ASHRAE 90.1 baseline  a key national energy standard for commercial buildings.

Ultimately, the plant was designed with two objectives in mind: to provide a healthful and productive environment for employees that is full of natural light and views to the outdoors, and to create a sustainable facility that minimizes energy and water usage.

The company has implemented sustainable practices in every aspect of its new HVM facility and beyond, according to CEO John Van Dine, from the design and construction of the building to the management of manufacturing processes and across all of the day-to-day activities in the work area.

In addition to its new energy-efficient plant, the Faribault-based company produces energy-saving dynamic glass, which has the potential to reduce building heating and air conditioning equipment size by up to 25 percent, as well as reduce overall cooling loads for commercial buildings up to 20 percent by lowering peak power demand.

The company also operates an extensive recycling effort as part of its solid waste management plan by collecting office paper, glass, cans, newspaper, and cardboard at all work stations and throughout the facility. Its expanded recycling program recycles plastics, batteries, electronic waste, toner cartridges, lamp bulbs, cardboard, and scrap wood. The company also implements an annual waste stream audit to continually monitor and reduce its solid waste's impact on the environment.

Finalist: Landscape Structures

Since its founding in 1971 by Steve and Barb King, Delano-based Landscape Structures has designed, manufactured, and installed more than 75,000 playgrounds worldwide. But in addition to its expertise in playground equipment manufacturing, it's also been recognized for its focus on sustainability. In 1998, it became the first commercial playground equipment manufacturer in North America to be ISO 14001 certified for environmental stewardship. Additionally, by moving from batch manufacturing to a one-kit flow, the company has decreased scrap by more than 60 percent. Landscape Structures recycles all of its scrap steel and aluminum, and it saves more than 2,500 gallons of water each day by recycling and reusing cleaning water in its concrete operations. "Sustainable design has always been an important part of our culture at Landscape Structures, which is why we introduced more sustainable playground products," says marketing manager Megan Andrada.

The Evos play system, for example, offers up to a 30-percent reduced carbon footprint compared to traditional play structures. "We continue to seek new ways of improving our sustainable design practices," Andrada says. "And our goal is to do this without sacrificing any of the quality [customers] expect from us."

Finalist: Ultra Green Packaging

Plymouth-based Ultra Green Packaging has developed a complete line of food service packaging created from locally grown wheat straw to replace plastic and foam packaging. And keeping things close to home, the packaging is manufactured in the U.S. at the company's North Dakota facility. "Our wheat fiber–based packaging is biodegradable, compostable, and 100-percent sustainable since wheat straw is a renewable resource left after the wheat grain harvest," says marketing specialist Katie Bradley.

The company pulps the wheat straw without the use of chemicals by using water and steam to turn it into moldable fibers. Additionally, 95 percent of the water used is recycled within the plant and reused in the manufacturing process. Plus, all products with manufacturing errors are recycled back into the process to become usable products.

The company's tree-free paper products break down in approximately 90 days, and the bio-plastic products break down in 150 days - without toxic residues. Compare that to the 400 to 1,000 years it takes for conventional, petro-based plastic products to break down.

Ultra Green hopes that its biodegradable products will help save millions of trees. Additionally, by bringing manufacturing onshore, the company is reducing the carbon footprint of its products.