Features


The 2017 Manufacturing Awards

By Compiled and edited by Megan Gosch

With manufacturers spanning a variety of areas and specialties, the industry is essential to the state’s economic health. Whether they specialize in custom drum kits or biological reference materials, Minnesota’s manufacturers set industry standards through efficiency, innovation and bold new strategies. Thanks to all who submitted nominations, and to every Minnesota manufacturer producing quality parts and products. Although this list includes just some of Minnesota’s manufacturers, we tip our hats to all of the companies and individuals creating great products that they, and all Minnesotans, can be proud of.

Best in Class - Micro

WINNER
Mercury Mosaics
Minneapolis

Mercury Mosaics is a woman-run tile design and manufacturing enterprise that they touted as a “bakery for tile.” With its artisan approach, Mercury fits well into its Northeast Minneapolis neighborhood, which has become a magnet for artisan enterprises. Its aim is to create meaningful, curated environments rich with color, texture and pattern through the medium of tile. 

Mercury’s top products are Moroccan fish scale tile and subway tile. With their bold colors and ability to customize pieces, Mercury’s tiles have found a worldwide reach, from South Africa to Finland. Domestic customers include Whole Foods, Starbucks, Google and Amazon.

Shaped by a collective of creative, intelligent, passionate and hard-working craftspeople, Mercury Mosaics has evolved rapidly over the past 15 years to become global tile trend-makers. In contrast with today’s fast-paced world, Mercury Mosaics designs and manufacturers for those who still admire and appreciate the beauty of products created by dedicated craftspeople. 

2nd place
DrumLite
Minneapolis

DrumLite is an LED lighting accessory company that specializes in producing light-up drums. Co-founders Jeff Sevaldson and Joey Nesbitt launched DrumLite out of their dorm room at the University of St. Thomas. Now it has grown to an international brand. 

DrumLite has seen more than 889% growth since its first year in business in 2011. DrumLite products include LED kits which glow in solid colors, triggered systems that light up when the drums are hit, and DMX systems which can be synced to professional light shows. DrumLite products have been featured in numerous awards shows, from the Grammys to the Super Bowl, and have been used by many notable bands such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kelly Clarkson and Walk the Moon.

As stage productions become more elaborate, the DrumLite team believes live lighting will continue to become even more essential. To coincide with this growth, DrumLite will be launching an array of new products in 2018.

3rd place
Laser 1 Technologies
West St. Paul

Laser 1 Technologies has evolved over the last 18 years from a typical job shop to a manufacturing partner for many well-known local and national companies. Don Walsh, owner of Laser 1, believes in the competitive edge technology provides to businesses. Because rapid innovations often make equipment and applied technologies obsolete within a few years, Walsh and his team monitor new technologies constantly. With Walsh’s clear vision for future growth, internal reorganization and added support positions, Laser 1 has positioned itself as a valuable part of the supply chain. Control of manufacturing processes, a clear understanding of internal financials, and proper use of financial institutions has helped secure Laser 1 profitability and sustainability, and has garnered recognition across several industries and markets. Laser 1 is looking into 2018 with cautious optimism. In the years ahead, the Laser 1 team believes as the economy continues to grow, reshoring will create additional job opportunities. 

Best in Class - Small

Winner
Lake Engineering Inc.
Long Lake 

Founded in 1951, Lake Engineering has a proud and storied past as the manufacturer of key control components for all manned space flights in the latter half of the 20th century. From John Glenn’s trip in the Mercury capsule through the Apollo missions to the moon and beyond, Lake Engineering has delivered on its promise to provide high-precision, critical parts on time. Today, Lake is a key supplier to Boeing, Rockwell Collins, Danaher Motion, and more. 

Lake is currently focused on two key initiatives to reduce costs through lean manufacturing and continued investment in high-level automation with a move to cellular manufacturing. Lake’s strategic team has moved away from a “command/control” philosophy toward a “coaching/engagement” management model. Through cross-training and the leveraging of  employees’ strengths, Lake’s new culture revolves around a team mentality. As a veteran-owned, third-generation small family business, the Lake team excited to grow their business along with their employees!

2nd place
aspectLED
Arden Hills

aspectLED is an Arden Hills-based manufacturer of LED lighting products for residential, commercial and OEM applications. Some of the company’s customers include Victoria’s Secret, Marriott, McDonalds, Carestream Health, Starbucks, SpaceX, MMD Medical, Circle K and more. The company produces highly efficient light fixtures, such as recessed in-ceiling lights, linear under-cabinet lighting, commercial fixtures and custom fixtures. aspectLED’s OEM division also produces a wide variety of LED subassemblies and custom LED products for the world’s leading manufacturers. aspectLED’s products were recently used to light up the main stage at the 2017 Grammy awards and the White House.

aspectLED has invested heavily in software and automation technologies to increase efficiency and decrease production costs. Most recently the company has developed proprietary rapid product development process, which focuses on listening to customers to identify new product opportunities, then quickly developing products and bringing them to market.

3rd place
Hydra-Flex, Inc.
Eagan 

Founded in 2002 with two men, a beer fridge and a machine shop, Hydra-Flex, Inc.’s mission is driven by the passion to find a better way to manufacture innovative fluid-handling products for the vehicle wash industry, including chemical injectors, chemical dispensing systems and high-pressure nozzles. From its start, Hydra-Flex has stayed true to its core values of innovation, reliability and accuracy, bringing core technologies to new markets including hydro-excavation and industrial cleaning, revolutionizing the way their customers do business. 

Hydra-Flex has identified an industry issue in the need for resource-efficient equipment and has claimed an all-out “war on waste,” making it their mission to develop innovative products that solve problems, save resources, reduce waste and provide measurable results for customers. Their innovative products have contributed to Hydra-Flex’s tremendous growth, specifically a 282.75% growth in revenue over the last five years. 

Best in Class - Mid-Size

WINNER
Diversified Plastics, Inc.
Minneapolis 

Celebrating its 40th anniversary, Diversified Plastics excels with difficult projects and works with customers to provide design assistance, prototypes, intricate molding and cleanroom assembly. Precision thermoplastic parts manufactured by Diversified Plastics Inc. can be found in Juno Spacecraft instruments, medical devices, lithium-ion batteries, dental x-ray machines and many other remarkable places. 

An employee stock-ownership plan company, Diversified Plastics has a worldwide presence with over 75 employees. These exceptional employees are one reason that Diversified Plastics is sought by medical device and other companies to provide design assistance for superior molding efficiencies and quality. 

Diversified Plastics keeps up with technology by upgrading machines with more energy-efficient equipment and robotics that offer greater productivity and better control of the molding process. Diversified Plastics’ success is measured not only in profits, but in satisfied customers and employees. The company and its employees are committed to giving back to the community and being good stewards of the planet. 

2nd place
Microbiologics
St. Cloud

Microbiologics is a leading manufacturer of ready-to-use biological reference materials. With an award-winning culture centered around innovation, Microbiologics has doubled its workforce since 2008 to build a global distribution network serving 147 countries. Microbiologics was recognized by the U.S. Department of Commerce for outstanding exportation achievement, and the company’s industry-leading quality system underscores its ability to consistently design, develop and deliver superior quality products. 

Microbiologics believes innovation is essential to preserving the longevity of its business. The addition of UV-BioTAG™ to the Microbiologics product portfolio, developed from a partnership with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is a recent example of the company’s commitment to innovation. The biological control contains a green fluorescent protein (GFP) marker that causes cultures to glow under UV light and allows food laboratories to distinguish quality control strains from contaminants. Microbiologics has stayed on the cutting edge of its industry by partnering with rapid-diagnostic instrumentation manufacturers to create controls for their technologies and customers. 

3rd place
Minimizer
Blooming Prairie

Mention “Minimize” to anyone involved in the heavy-duty truck aftermarket and they’ll immediately think “tested and tortured.” Minimizer has made a name for itself by building its brand through high-level marketing and innovation, and with five new products hitting store shelves in 2017, Minimizer doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

Innovation has been a part of Minimizer since the beginning, when founder Dick Kruckeberg started selling his invention, the poly truck fender, in 1984. Just 10 years ago, Minimizer was made up of a couple dozen employees. Today, with nearly 100 employees, the “tested and tortured” brand is trying to do its part to return manufacturing jobs from overseas. Every Minimizer product is manufactured in the United States.
Most of all, the company is committed to family. Now four generations strong, the Kruckebergs always have an eye towards the future, with Minimizer at the forefront of innovation and technology.

Best in Class - Large

WINNER
Uponor North America
Apple Valley 

For more than 40 years, Uponor North America (Uponor) has partnered with professionals to create better human environments. The company seeks innovative ways to ensure radiant heating/cooling, hydronic piping, pre-insulated pipe and fire sprinkler systems offer the most consistent and high-performing solutions available to residential and commercial structures around the globe.

Uponor expects the continued rise in residential and commercial restoration and new construction to fuel the plumbing and HVAC industries in 2018. In response to the increase in customer demand, Uponor invested $17.4 million and recently broke ground on a 58,000-square-foot facility to increase manufacturing capacity. Not only does Uponor invest in their customers’ success, but they take care of their employees as well. Uponorians receive four weeks of paid time off in their first year and an additional 24 hours of annual volunteer paid time off, as well as access to benefits such as education assistance, adoption assistance, parental leave and an employee favorite: a casual dress code.

2nd place
Renewal by Andersen LLC
Cottage Grove

Based in Cottage Grove, Renewal by Andersen, LLC., is the start-to-finish window replacement division of Andersen Corporation. 

With double-digit growth over the past several years, Renewal’s recent factory expansion has increased Renewal’s capacity and a need for roughly 250 manufacturing jobs. The 124,000-foot expansion is a major milestone for the future of the company. When Renewal opened in 1999, the company ran on one eight-hour shift. The division quickly grew to meet demand, and today the factory runs 24 hours, five days a week, with additional production lines. Renewal’s new double-hung line features four new robotic systems that handle critical jobs like laying glass safely, precisely and efficiently. 

Innovation around environmental stewardship continues to be an important focus at Renewal by Andersen. The company’s cutting-edge facility is a showcase for their commitment to environmental responsibility as well as its employees, partners and customers who purchase their windows. 

3rd place
Teamvantage LLC
Forest Lake 

Since inception in 1970, Teamvantage has developed into a full-service contract manufacturer, offering custom manufacturing solutions to its customer base in the medical, defense and aerospace industries.  

Teamvantage is unique in many ways, beginning with its name which was selected to express the importance of teamwork for the company’s employees and customers. Teamwork is the foundation of the company’s culture, with a great deal of effort dedicated to thoughtfully identifying and attracting customers whose personalities are in sync with Teamvantage. Collaboration has also become the cornerstone of Teamvantage’s success. The company’s profit-sharing program encourages employees to be fully engaged and remain motivated for success. After all, employees are their most important asset.

Workforce Development

WINNER
Midwest Industrial Tool Grinding, Inc. (MITGI) 
Hutchinson 

MITGI manufactures and markets standard and custom cutting tools for manufacturers serving medical device, aerospace and rapid prototyping industries. Focused on precision, quality and customer-driven timelines, MITGI has a reputation as a trusted partner. 

Through years of rapid growth, MITGI found the demand for machinists was higher than the pool of available applicants.  MITGI approached this problem through community engagement, simultaneously applying public relations strategies and building a coalition of business leaders and educators. “Over the past year, MITGI employees have worked with area businesses, regional resources, schools and legislative leaders to align resources and focus on common workforce development goals,” explains Eric Lipke, MITGI President. “We’re seeing extraordinary results in our community: the development of a new high school structure and corresponding career path curriculum, increased enrollment in manufacturing-related classes, and the development of job shadowing and internships.”

2nd place
Alliance Machine, Inc.
Elk River

Family-owned Alliance Machine has gained a reputation for providing high-value, precision machining for the aerospace/aircraft, defense, technology and medical industries.

Since its founding in 1897, Alliance has expanded its services, production facilities and workforce to support the needs of its customers. To support a the company’s full line of lathe and milling equipment, a flexible manufacturing system (FMS) was added, which doubled revenue in the last two fiscal periods. Alliance has doubled manufacturing space to more than 40,000 square feet. It also doubled its workforce to more than 40 full-time workers. It has invested heavily in employee training and an apprenticeship program with the help of state grants such as MJSP, and Apprenticeship Minnesota.

3rd place
Miller Ingenuity
Winona 

For more than 65 years, Miller Ingenuity has  revolutionized traditional safety solutions for railway workers. To generate creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit at Miller, President and CEO Steve Blue invested in a state-of-the-art 1,200-square-foot collaborative space in the company’s Winona factory, complete with high-tech tools, large reclining chairs, a café and ping-pong tables. Everyone is encouraged to spend time there brainstorming. Employees’ creative ideas have propelled the company to success over the past few years, including Miller’s latest award-winning product, ZoneGuard, a high-technology safety system that warns of potential track vehicles entering work zones.

Sustainability

WINNER
Alakef Coffee Roasters
Duluth 

Alakef Coffee Roasters was born out of a passion for coffee and the search for the “perfect cup.” Alakef has been craft-roasting out of Duluth for over 25 years with dedication to providing the highest-quality coffee. 

Alakef has always implemented an aggressive sustainability program, and now, with innovations such as cornstarch-based packaging materials, the Alakef team is taking further steps to reduce their environmental impact. Chief roasting by-products have been regularly stocking compost bins, mulching gardens and insulating trees for years. In addition to Alakef’s continued involvement in the Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade and USDA Organic certification programs, the roasters are also working to improve the lives and surroundings of those who work to provide their coffee beans. As a small, woman-owned company, Alakef is committed to supporting the greater community of Minnesota and the healthy growth of the sustainable coffee industry.

2nd place
Hydra-Flex
Eagan 

The core of Hydra-Flex Inc.’s mission is to fight a war on waste and save precious resources, which is evident in the innovative products they develop. Previously, car washes used traditional inefficient and unreliable chemical pumping and dilution systems. Hydra-Flex has developed the Aqua-Lab™ Chemical Dispensing System, a system that uses less water, fewer chemicals, takes up less space, and requires less maintenance than traditional mixing, dosing and pumping equipment. Aqua-Lab uses regulated, boosted pressure, resulting in less solution used with better cleaning results. Building on the efficiency, durability and consistency that car wash owners have grown to trust, Hydra-Flex introduced the next generation of Aqua-Lab Chemical Dispensing Systems earlier this year. Continuing their war on waste, Hydra-Flex reduced material waste with the new systems by integrating air-actuated valves directly into the new designs.

3rd place
Environmental Tillage Systems
Faribault

Environmental Tillage Systems (ETS) has been dedicated to sustainability as well as leading the charge as a premier manufacturer of zone tillage equipment since 2004. Its flagship product, the SoilWarrior®, is a complete strip-till system that enhances soil productivity and farm profitability. ETS products set the standard for in-field performance, machine durability and ease of operation. The company is unique in that it produces environmentally-friendly, sustainable results for farmers without sacrificing yields. ETS products deliver nutrients directly as furrows are created, build soil sustainability, address carbon costs associated with farming and avoid traditional water run-off issues. Founded on a farm in southeast Minnesota, the company now serves clients in the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. 

Best New Product - Food & Beverage

WINNER 
Smude Enterprises
Pierz

After almost losing their farm to a drought year, Tom and Jenni Smude launched Smude Sunflower Oil, a family-owned company, in 2010. The Smudes initially looked for an opportunity in bulk oil, but when the price of oil dropped dramatically, the company chose retail instead. Smude’s storage, crush facility and bottling operation began in one building on the home farm. Over the years, the company outgrew the farm and moved the offices, bottling and storage into a warehouse in Pierz, Minn. 

The company now operates four to five days a week and presses year-round to manufacture Smude’s recently expanded variety of products, from sunflower oils to all-natural microwave popcorn (a product that made Smude one of the first companies to offer liquid oil in microwave popcorn. The Smude team is excited to see where each branch of their business leads them in the coming years.

2nd place
K-Mama Sauce
Columbia Heights 

K-Mama Sauce began in 2015 as a gochujang product made by hand and sold at local farmers markets. To date, K-Mama Sauce is sold in over 20 states nationwide and is manufactured in bulk and packed in Minneapolis. This year, K-Mama Sauce won the Sofi Award for Best New Product in the Gluten-Free category. K-Mama Sauce continues to grow, maintaining a presence in co-ops and grocery stores around the country as well
as sale of K-Mama sauces on Amazon in all 50 states.

3rd place
Maud Borup
Le Center

Maud Borup is a 110-year-old woman-owned and veteran-owned wholesale confections company. Respected as an innovator in the food gift industry, Maud Borup develops more than 150 new products each year. With a commitment to sustainability, a new 100-foot wind turbine powers the manufacturing facility and over 30 processes have been identified for reuse, recycle and upcycle.

The company designs and manufacturers private-label products for some of the largest mass, specialty, and online retailers in the world, developing food gifts under the  Peanuts®, Hell’s Kitchen® and Thomas Kinkade® brand names.

In 2016, “Better For You” baking mixes were released to meet demands for healthier ready-mix choices. The line avoids MSG, trans fats, partially hydrogenated oils, artificial colors and artificial flavors. The “Better For You” line has expanded to over 15 products.

Best New Product - Design

WINNER
Hydra-Flex,
Eagan 

In 2014, Hydra-Flex released the Ripsaw™ Rotating Industrial Turbo Nozzle, a nozzle designed specifically for hydro-excavation (a non-mechanical, non-destructive process which uses pressurized water and industrial strength vacuums to simultaneously excavate and evacuate soil and expose underground utilities). Standard nozzles proved to be unreliable and resulted in wasted time, labor, water and fuel. During field trials of the Ripsaw, operators dug 35% faster and used 35% less water than competitors’ nozzles. According to one customer, Bruce Bergstrom with Energy Construction Solutions, “What this means to us is a nearly 30% increase in productivity. It’s a simple thing on a half million dollar truck, and we were surprised how big of a difference it made.” In just two and a half years, Hydra-Flex has become known as “the most trusted name in hydro-excavation nozzles.” 

2nd place
Marvin Windows and Doors
St. Paul

At this year’s International Builders’ Show,  Remodeling Magazine said the first must-see item was the new Marvin Clad Ultimate Bi-Fold Door, which is designed for both residential and commercial use. The design gives builders a tremendous amount of flexibility and provides new options to designers, because it is capable of 45 different configurations (as compared to 28 with the previous version). The Ultimate Bi-Fold Door features proprietary sill and frame technology.

It has a maximum frame height of 10 feet, overall widths exceeding 55 feet and a panel width up to 3-feet-6-inches. The Ultimate Bi-Fold Door gives builders significant flexibility in bringing an expansive, movable wall of glass into any project. With one of the widest panels in the industry, the design provides new options to designers who want to use as few panels as possible to create the least obstructed view for their project. 

3rd place
APG Cash Drawer
Minneapolis

As advances in technology change the landscape of payment at the point of sale, the question of the true value of cash in a global economy has never been more pertinent. $1.5 trillion, €2.1 trillion and £216 billion in cash circulate the US, EU and British markets daily, representing 30% to 45% of all global transactions. Across the retail spectrum, cash loss is a concern and time spent on physically moving and counting cash is inefficient. With an understanding of these challenges, APG developed the SMARTtill® Solution, which enables retailers to eradicate cash losses by up to 90%, reduce the cost of cash handling and improve in-store productivity. This solution leads to redeployment of personnel for improved customer service. For more than 39 years, APG has been designing and delivering cash management solutions with a variety of size, color, interface and integration options.

Emerging Leader

WINNER
Jaci K. Dukowitz, Director of HR, Training & Development, Sales & Marketing, Ultra Machining Company
Monticello

Greatest accomplishment?
I am proud I was able to work full time and go to school full time for more than 10 years to collect my degrees and certifications. After all those years of being a student, the transition to teaching was an awesome accomplishment. 

What will be a dominant trend or issue for manufacturing in 2018?
Retention is a dominant trend. Having spent the last few years focused on a skills gap, labor shortage, training and other development opportunities, manufacturers have made huge investments in our workforce. We need to concentrate on retaining our best employees: keeping them satisfied and engaged so they don’t leave for other opportunities. 

What is the greatest lesson you have learned?
You can learn something from every person you meet. People are crazy, smart, kind and usually willing to help you out if you have the courage to ask!

Name your strongest characteristic that helps you be a good leader.
Resiliency, sprinkled with a healthy dose of humor. When I get knocked down, I’m never down for long. I’m not stressed easily and can usually find the humor or irony in any situation. Life is too short to dwell on unhappy situations and as a leader, you have to be able to adjust and forge ahead quickly. 

Favorite wise saying?
“It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.” - André Gide

2nd place
Beth Nielsen, CEO and COO, aspectLED
Arden Hills

Greatest accomplishment?
The amazing team I work with every day. There’s nothing more important in any business than having a team of highly motivated, intelligent and engaged people working hard to execute the company’s mission.

Dominant trend for 2018?
More automation through robotics and optimization through software. Given the labor shortage, manufacturers are being forced to invest in capital equipment and software that helps to streamline business operations and reduce direct labor wherever possible.

Greatest lesson you learned?
The importance of always listening to customer feedback and suggestions and responding by developing new offerings. Some of our best and most profitable ideas have come from customers who’ve had a need or experienced a problem and asked if we would be willing to help them.

Your strongest characteristic?
Patience. I think patience is one of the most difficult yet important skills to develop for any business leader. Having the patience to listen and embrace new ideas and remain open-minded builds trust and a strong foundation that will outlast those challenges.

Favorite wise saying?
The harder you work, the luckier you get.

3rd place
Tessa Webber, Co-owner & Designer, Tess+Tricia
Eden Prairie 

Greatest accomplishment?
We’re gaining momentum as we grow and accommodate larger accounts. Often times we are encouraged to move our manufacturing overseas — we won’t. Four years ago, we built our company with the intention to support our country by supporting our local community. The pressure of the industry standard can be hard but we have always stayed true to supporting our country by supporting American jobs. 

Dominant trend for 2018?
We need to be able to compete with other jewelry companies manufacturing overseas. Our goal is to continue to articulate our mission and help our customers see the true value in American-made goods. 

Greatest lesson you learned?
I’ve learned to trust myself. Without trust and courage, my creativity will never come naturally. With trust in myself and my ideas, I don’t see boundaries, only opportunities.   

Your strongest characteristic?
Creativity. Creativity doesn’t just come when I am creating new pieces, it comes in problem-solving, strategizing, sales and so much more; I use my creativity in everything. 

Favorite wise saying?
“When we engage in what we are naturally suited to do, our work takes on the quality of play and it is play that stimulates creativity.” - Linda Naiman

Executive of the Year

WINNER
Jaime Harris, President/CEO, Hydra-Flex
Eagan

Greatest accomplishment?
Personally, I’m proud of the way my wife and I have raised three active, amazing kids. Professionally, I’m most proud that Hydra-Flex was named Best In Class – Small Company at the 2016 Minnesota Manufacturing Awards. It is a tremendous honor to be recognized by our peers.

Dominant trend for 2018?
In this economy, finding and retaining the right skilled labor will continue to be challenging. Without a doubt, Hydra-Flex’s greatest focus this year is recruiting talent that can keep up with the company’s growth.

Greatest lesson you learned?
As Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” In the last eight to 10 years, I’ve learned it’s important to reflect and appreciate our successes and avoid moving on to the next goal too quickly. Every once in a while you should look at what you’ve accomplished and celebrate.

Your strongest characteristic?
Perseverance. I’m strategically gritty and methodically determined to the point where failure is not an option. Based on the numbers my co-founder and I saw after Hydra-Flex’s first year, it made no sense to continue. Perseverance helped us to scratch, claw and bite our way through those years. Being passionate about what you do, never giving up, and surrounding yourself with the right people is what leads you to success.

Favorite wise saying?
“What gets measured improves.” 

2nd place
David Lenzmeier, CEO, Milk Specialties Global
Eden Prairie

Greatest accomplishment?
I am proud of the tremendous commitment from our entire team. Personally, I am so blessed to have such a wonderful family. Also, I enjoy dedicating time to the Hendrickson Foundation. My wife Frankie and I grew up in special needs families, so helping to support those athletes with disabilities is very important to me.

Dominant trend for 2018?  
Safety is always the top priority for Milk Specialties manufacturing operations. Retaining and training a strong workforce is imperative to our long-term success. 

Greatest lesson learned?
Stay focused on top priorities while continuing to drive innovation.

Strongest characteristic? 
Passion and integrity. I’m also very focused and driven.

Favorite wise saying? 
“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing in the world is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”  — Calvin Coolidge

3rd place
Craig Kruckeberg, Owner, CEO, Chief Visionary, Minimizer
Blooming Prairie

Greatest accomplishment?
Long ago, I asked my father what more is left to do once you graduate high school, get married and have kids? Do you just spend the rest of your life working? And he said “No. You spend the rest of your life trying to make sure your kids’ lives are one step better than yours,” and I feel like I’ve achieved that with my kids.”

Dominant trend for 2018?
You always have the classic issues of labor, cost and government interference. But I think the biggest accomplishment in 2018 will be more jobs coming back from Mexico and overseas.

Greatest lesson you learned?
Never lie when it comes to two things — my golf score and my financials. Otherwise you never know if you’re getting better.

Strongest characteristic?
Everyone tells me it’s my drive, but I don’t see that way. I always tell my CFO “Okay, I have everybody on the same page, let’s go.” Then I get so far down the road that when I turn around, there’s nobody there.

Favorite wise saying?
“If success happens overnight, somebody’s going to jail.” 

Supply Chain Honorees

Karl Manufacturing Solutions
Roseau, Minn.

It is only logical that a manufacturer in Roseau would hitch its star to Polaris, the largest manufacturer in the area. Karl Manufacturing Solutions began in 1999 as QC Technologies. Polaris was just turning to reusable metal crates to ship its snowmobiles and other vehicles, and QC was brought in to refurbish the crates. That turned out well. All of those crates are still in use today. Such success breeds further responsibilities, so the company proceeded to provide additional services to Polaris, especially through decorated parts using Hydrographics and other techniques that embed artistic designs into the paint or resin of a coating. (That’s how you get that camouflage look on your ATV.) Throughout the years Polaris has given numerous awards to the company for efficiency, meeting deadlines and customer service. Last year the company was acquired by Karl Manufacturing Solutions, and in its first year of ownership, increased the efficiency of the production process by 35%. That’s the way to keep zooming.

Whirltronics
Buffalo, Minn. 

Whirltronics, founded in 1961, is a metal fabricator with diverse capabilities in stamping hot and cold carbon steel, but the clue to its sweet spot is embedded in its name: Whirl — as in the whirling blade of a rotor mower. Whirltronics is a major supplier of precision lawn mower blades to major OEMs such as Toro, Exmark, Gravely, Kubota and Ariens. Whirltronics needs to be efficient and reliable to keep such customers happy by delivering quality product on time. So — the company has instituted Lean Manufacturing practices to streamline productivity. Such measures have paid off. For one thing, the company was recognized by Honda last year with a Supplier Performance Award. It has also resulted in excellent growth for Whirltronics. Over the last five years its revenues have grown by 47%, and it completed a 20,000 square foot expansion last year. It looks like as long as the grass keeps growing, Whirltronics will, too.

Lifetime Achievement Award

Wayne Dirkman has quite a reach. The circuit boards he has helped produce can be found on the moon, on Mars, and at the bottom of the ocean in his home planet, Earth. Yes, his circuit boards made it into the space program, which includes the Mars Rover, and unfortunately, onto a nuclear submarine that imploded and sank.

Wayne learned about electronics while serving in the U.S. Army, and then worked at General Electric before becoming a serial entrepreneur. In 1968 he founded Calumet Electronics in Calumet, Michigan, and in 1988 he founded Quality Circuits in Fergus Falls, Minn. Why Fergus Falls?

“The town’s largest employer lost its building in a fire,” says Wayne, “so the city’s leaders collaborated to raise money to attract new business. The amount each company lent was no bigger than the size of a car loan.”

Wayne is no stranger to awards — in 1991 he was named Entrepreneur of the Year by Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson. But what is the greatest accomplishment of his career?

“I survived,” he says. “Only 5% of U.S. circuit board manufacturers still exist from its peak. We are one of them.”

He did it by diversifying his customers, expanding from defense contracts to medical technology, and serving whoever had a need. 

He considers his employees to be a major reason for his success. A lot of organizational charts are pyramids with the president at top and the workers on the bottom. Wayne turns that upside down. “I put them at the top, because they are the most important people in my business,” says Wayne.

Perhaps that is why he has virtually no turnover in workers, and is one reason he is being recognized for his lifetime of achievement.