Manufacturers are key to southern Minn.

Published 8:55 am Thursday, October 6, 2011

Column: Tim Penny, Guest Column

In this month’s column, I want to recognize our manufacturers. Oct. 24-29 has been set aside as Minnesota Manufacturing Week to showcase Minnesota’s diverse manufacturing industry. We at Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation understand the important role our manufacturers play in providing high-wage, high-skilled jobs and significantly contributing to Minnesota’s high standard of living and economic vitality.

Tim Penny

The manufacturing industry is a dynamic part of Minnesota’s economy. In all, manufacturing accounts for nearly 300,000 Minnesota jobs, about 14 percent, and has the largest total payroll of any business sector. In our southern Minnesota region, manufacturing accounts for 53,694 jobs, about 17 percent.

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Helping to grow manufacturing businesses is an integral part of SMIF’s economic development strategy. Over the years, we have provided over $10 million in resources to 112 local manufacturing companies to either help them get their business going or to expand.

To give you an example, at a recent reception we hosted for our entrepreneurs, Neil Weaver, owner and CEO of aba Water Systems in Plainview, shared the success of his water purification business.

Started in 1985 with a loan from SMIF (our first loan), Weaver notes steady growth and employment for a dozen or so people over the years. He credits his success with “being in the right place at the right time” and help from many people. Over the years, he’s been repeatedly recognized for his well-established specialty in resin and is often asked to consult in the design of new plants.

Another notable success story that we’ve had a hand in is Akkerman Manufacturing out of Brownsdale.

Maynard Akkerman assumed leadership of the tunnel-boring machine business from his father in the early 1980s. Today Akkerman is known around the globe for its trenchless boring units. Once again, this local manufacturer is providing good jobs in one of our small communities.

My final example is of three manufacturers who came together through relationships they established as members of our CEO Peer Council.

In 2009, the Southern Minnesota Manufacturers Alliance formed to create new business opportunities. Three companies — CAB Construction of Mankato, ProTrucking/ProManufacturing of Albert Lea, and Metal Services of Blooming Prairie — began using their combined strengths to attract new customers from around the world, many of whom have sought larger firms outside the region to meet their needs. Using the model of high-tech firms that often collaborate and synergize, the Alliance is a unique but powerful resource in the manufacturing industry.

What do these examples have in common? Each of these established manufacturers began as an entrepreneur with both the vision and the drive to grow a successful business. These entrepreneurs were able to understand their assets and define their competitive advantage, as well as employ good workers, and contribute to their local economies.

Throughout our region, many communities will be having a special event to recognize local manufacturers. It’s a great opportunity for residents to learn more about these significant employers and perhaps even tour local companies.

I know South Central College, Faribault, and the Faribault Chamber of Commerce are collaborating on a Manufacturing Week promotion scheduled for Oct. 27, that will feature a noon luncheon with a keynote speaker. A panel of manufacturers will share their views of the state of manufacturing in Faribault, followed by tours of three Faribault manufacturers.

I urge you to check with your local Chamber of Commerce to see how you can support this important economic engine within your community.

If you would like more information on how we can help grow your manufacturing businesses, send me an email or check our website

Tim Penny is the president and CEO of Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation.