Lou-Rich’s Santa Claus waves hello to Albert Lea motoristsPublished 10:58am Friday, December 20, 2013
Santa Claus sits atop the doorway at Lou-Rich Inc. on Front Street in Albert Lea this holiday season. He moves back and forth and waves his arm.
How long has the automated Santa greeted people coming in or passing by Lou-Rich? According to Lou-Rich training coordinator Sue Berg, it’s not known for sure but possibly 1967. Not for consecutive years though.
The Santa belonged to Scotsman Ice Systems. Scotsman put it up some years but not others because it was stolen then returned, she said. Lou-Rich inherited the Santa when it bought that building in 1989. Some years it wasn’t up because of malfunctions and some years it wasn’t up because of alterations to Lou-Rich’s entryway.
Nowadays Lou-Rich has a special frame for Santa, Berg said. It was used in 2005 and, as far as she recalls, the year before that. She said Lou-Rich plans to display Santa Claus in the future, too.
“People would drive around town to see Christmas lights, and they always had to drive by our place to see Santa,” Berg said. “So we hope to keep up that tradition.”
The Santa turns on at about 4 a.m. and shuts off at about 11 p.m. When it is dark outside, lights come on to brighten Santa.
Lou-Rich grew from a two-man plant and one secretary in Hayward to more than 400 employees. Louis Larson and Richard Ackland opened a repair business mainly for farm machinery called Lou-Rich Machine Tool in 1972.
Lou-Rich purchased the Scotsman Ice Systems building on Front Street in Albert Lea in 1989. The purchase elevated the business to contract manufacturing. Larson and Ackland retired in 1992, and the company became employee-owned.
The company opened a division in Brandon, S.D., in 1996, and acquired an aluminum extrusion company called Exact Manufacturing in 1998 — now a division of Lou-Rich.
In 2001, Lou-Rich started making its own product under a division called Panels Plus. It has automated and semi-automated wall panel equipment for the construction industry.
With the purchase of Almco in 2004, the holding company Innovance Inc. was established. It has ownership of Lou-Rich and Almco. This year Lou-Rich opened an assembly facility in the north industrial area of Albert Lea. Over the years, Lou-Rich has expanded its operation in Hayward extensively, too.