Thanks to the purchase of a high-capacity laser cutting tool, a manufacturing business in Beatrice is going to see a jump in its ability to turn out its products, and create some new jobs in the process.
Precise Fabrication turns raw sheet metal into component parts for its customers, which demand exacting effort. Once the laser slices the sheet metal, the process includes press brakes for bending sheets, a fabricator, shearing, and cold saws. There's a welding department, and powder coating and plating subcontractors to finish the jobs.
The company's owner, LeRoy Janzen, who was born and raised in Beatrice, recognized the company eventually would need room to grow, and broke ground on Precise Fabrication's current 41,250-square foot facility in the Gage County Industrial Park about 4-1/2 years ago. That project was financed in Feb. 2007 through Pinnacle Bank's Beatrice Branch using the SBA's 504 program, offering fixed-rate interest over 20 years, and sales tax proceeds used for economic development and tax-increment financing to pay for infrastructure improvements at the site
Customers depend upon Precise Fabrication's solid products
Janzen built the business on a reputation of producing good products in a timely fashion, and boasts relationships with local firms such as Lincoln-based GT Exhaust, supplying parts for mufflers, silencers and catalysts for dredging machines and large trucks.
"The CEO of GT told us they do business with us because we can supply quality parts, and we get them the parts when they need them," said Dave Smith, the company's business manager.
The company also provides kiosk equipment and store fixtures for Store Kraft, a nationwide firm which has called Beatrice home for nearly a century.
Another Precise Fabrication customer, Industrial Maid of Cortland, even notes on its web site its commitment to dealing with local manufacturers," Smith said. "In the local paper they identified us as a key supplier, because they want to do business in the Midwest, and we enable them to do that."
The company also provides parts to Toro's plant in Beatrice, which manufactures walk-behind and riding mowers for landscape professionals; and, parts to nearby Plymouth Industries, which offers products for agriculture-based businesses.
And, with Encore Manufacturing in Beatrice selling its assets in March to China-based Worldlawn Power Equipment Inc., a move which also brought the company's headquarters from California to the southeast Nebraska town, Precise Fabrication will find a new customer for its work.
Success did have a cost, though. Since the company was founded 10 years ago, the work inexorably caught up to the firm's capacity. Their existing 1,500-watt laser had been running 24 hours a day, seven days a week to keep up with customer demand, said Smith. The new 4,000-watt laser will be a big help, and the company will expand its current staff of 23.
"This is a state-of-the-art laser cutter we're having shipped from Japan that we'll receive in June," Smith explained. "Our current laser is our bottleneck. So in some ways, we're adding more than double the capacity of our current laser. We'll be able to make more parts, hire more people in fabrication and hire welders. In the last two years we’ve had tremendous growth which gave us the confidence that this was the right move for us."
Turning to SBA to finance the deal
To finance the purchase of the laser cutter, the company again turned to Pinnacle Bank, and the bank again turned to the SBA to mitigate its risk.
"This was a specialized piece of equipment," said Beatrice branch president Stan Wirth. "It's something that if we had to sell, it would be tough to market."
In early May, Wirth visited with Suzanne Stearman, a lender relations specialist in the Nebraska District Office, who directed the bank president to the SBA Express program, which offers a temporary increase to the program's loan limit from $500,000 to $1 million through the end of September, and a 50 percent SBA-backed guarantee.
"They're a business that's viable with a definitive plan on handling the debt," Wirth explained. "Just by adding this machine, it'll add jobs to their workforce, something in this day and age is important, because every job counts."
Stearman reviewed the SBA Express application forms with Wirth, offering a few suggestions before the banker submitted the deal to the Sacramento loan processing center. As a result of her help, with the except of a couple of minor additions the center requested, Pinnacle had its approval within three or four days.
"Part of the comfort level working with the SBA is that we've seen an increase in communication between the SBA and the lender, and it's much better than it's ever been" Wirth said. "Suzanne has been in my office, I know who she is, and we're happy to have them as a partner."
Without the SBA's help, Smith added, Precise Fabrication's customers would have looked elsewhere for their needs, and likely outside the Beatrice area.
Keeping much-needed jobs in the area
“Beatrice and Gage County has some of the highest unemployment in the state because of the downsizing of the lawn mower industry," said Smith, who has lived in the area for 23 years. "So for businesses like ours to do well and thrive, and adding people, to me is a plus in a town the size of Beatrice. And we have a couple of vendors who we do a lot of businesses with, and they’d be greatly affected if we were not around."
The company also is committed to growing the Beatrice economy; Janzen participates in Beatrice First, an organization encouraging retention and growth with local firms collaborating on marketing ideas and brainstorming other ways to promote the area's commercial environment.
"I’ve had the chance to move to the big cities, but this gives me the chance to stay in this community and raise my family," Smith said.
And thanks to the new laser cutter, Precise Fabrication will be able to create jobs, helping more families to stay in Beatrice.
If you ever go on a vacation to the French countryside, and chance upon a barn that reminds you of one populating the Nebraska prairie, you may see a sample of the work from a company in Wayne.
Len Dickinson and his wife, Jule Goeller, started a company five years ago which blends building and selling technologically advanced pre-cut, pre-engineered kits which preserve authentic Great Plains post-and-beam barns and outbuildings.
Sand Creek Post and Beam offers big wood post and beam timber barns and outbuilding kits—many of which even are perfect for a one-of-a-kind rustic home. The frames are assembled on a customer’s existing foundation, and if that customer needs construction advice all the way up to turn-key construction services for the new barn, well, they provide that, too.
Each barn kit includes foundation sill plates, full-dimension Eastern red cedar sills, post and beam frame, Ponderosa pine premium siding, roof sheathing, gable vents, and hardware and fasteners. The finishing touches that make the company unique include hand-crafted windows, flower boxes, doors and cupolas, with individually paned glass and traditional designs.
The workers at their 27,000-square foot factory in Wayne, and their facility in Cleveland, Ga.,mill, cut and assemble the barn. Then they painstakingly disassemble the barn to ship to the customer.
Of course, it’s not a new idea, Goeller said. “Many of the barns in Nebraska years ago were built from kits from Sears or Montgomery Wards. So we brought back an old business and we’re reviving a niche. People don’t have the time these days to do things like get tools and go find people with expertise to build a barn. So if you could have something shipped already pre-packaged, wouldn’t that would work great?”
Like in days of yore, when they receive their shipment from the company, some of their customers depend on help of neighbors, relatives and, yes, even whole towns to gather for an old-fashioned barn raising.
Keeping with its back-to-the-prairie environmentally-friendly business model, Sand Creek Post and Beam uses all-natural materials, with no chemical preparations. “We pay Arbor Day to plant 10 trees for every customer we have,” Goeller added.
From the beginning, it was a hit
It all started when Dickinson convinced an ambivalent Goeller to sell their home in Lincoln and move to a property near Wisner her great grandparents had lived in. Eventually, after a lot of thought and research, the two began their timber framing business – and it was an immediate hit.
With catalogs off their ink jet printer and a magazine ad by the summer of 2004 comprising their marketing, the two had sold three barn kits by the end of that year. She laughed remembering her husband’s reaction to their first order: “Jule, look at this, we just got a check for $6,000 from a customer in Michigan – he just sent us an order form and a check! Jule, I think this is gonna work!” Just one problem: they had no factory to produce their barn kits; the first kits were put together out on a driveway. One of them was delivered to a place near Grinnell, Iowa, but got word the customer was short a few materials in the shipment. Goeller remembered with builders ready to start again after the holidays, the couple borrowed her father’s pickup on Christmas Eve, drove across the state in the winter cold to deliver the wood, and stopped for pizza on the way home.
But building barn kits out on a driveway would only take the business so far. The city administrator of nearby Wayne took the couple to lunch in April 2005 to propose using the town’s revolving economic development fund for $25,000 toward the business if they could find a bank to match it. With the funds, the business hired a technician for computer aided design, and a couple of young folks for plant operations. They rented out part of a building they shared with their landlord, but they had to move their equipment back out of the way every night so he could park his trucks inside. Growing rapidly, by January 2006, their landlord even built a building next door for his tenants to do the factory work—no more moving equipment back and forth at the end of each work day.
Putting the financing together
In late 2006, the couple entered a business plan competition through the University of Nebraska, and on their banker’s recommendation, met with Loren Kucera of the Nebraska Business Development Center in Wayne to help with their entry. While they were named a finalist in the competition, of more benefit was the relationship they started with the Wayne NBDC director, a relationship that was invaluable when the company looked to expand the next year.
Even as Sand Creek Post and Beam opened their small plant in Georgia in the fall of 2007, the Wayne facility eventually proved too cramped. Over the next year, the company embarked on an expansion project which would mean more factory space, an ability to complete more orders, and more jobs for local workers. Kucera played a crucial role for the business coordinating the SBA loan package and grant applications.
The company was approved Oct. 3, 2008, for a 7(a) loan for $559,400 from BankFirst in Norfolk to purchase the plant their landlord had built for them, and giving them the chance to add a separate lean-to for building doors and windows for their kits.
Around the same time, the firm nabbed a community development block grant for $200,000 to build a second plant facility on the Wayne property; Nebraska Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy even stopped by for a ribbon cutting ceremony.
Finally, a loan from the Northeast Nebraska Economic Development District for $100,000 allowed the company to acquire an abandoned bank for its office building. The size of its manufacturing plant now is 27,000 square feet.
Sending a piece of Wayne around the globe
From 2006 to 2009, the company grew from $1 million to $5.1 million in revenue, and to 37 employees. Even Inc. Magazine recognized the firm by naming it the 218th fastest-growing company in the country in 2009. Already over $4 million in revenue for 2010, Goeller said their fourth quarter “always our strongest.” Last December alone, the company had $1 million in sales, and she said they are on track to have between $6 and $7 million in revenue this year.
“When hard times hit, people cocoon, pull in, and do things with the family, do things at home, and our barn kits really fit that need,” Goeller said. “People use them for homes, second homes, cabins, a place to entertain, or for a guest home. It’s kind of for the Alpaca crowd, people who want to get away from the crime and the city. I think that our products appeal to that.”
Plans for the future include placing small production units strategically around the country to cut down on shipping costs. “We would like to expand our sales network, and look at doing more international sales,” Goeller added. “We sold one barn delivered to France, another to Alberta, even people from Australia are interested in obtaining our products.
“We will continue to focus on expanding our barn homes and commercial projects and expanding our markets,” Goeller added, “Our construction services department can work with our customers, whether they’re going to do it themselves, to hiring someone to put up the kit, or whether they take advantage of our turn-key operations.”
While the company continues to look toward future growth, they’re proud of their ties to the past, and a picture of rural America of days gone by.
“We even saw a TV commercial for four wheelers, and by chance one of our barns was used as a backdrop,” Goeller said. “That shows our barns really tie into being in the country and being tough and rugged. Some people use a barn when they want something to look American; well, we build those barns!”
As president of All Native Services, Lance Morgan leads an award-winning tribal-owned small business that provides managed and professional services, including program management, public affairs, and complete voice and data communications solutions.
In 1994, Morgan was asked by Winnebago Tribal leaders to organize Ho-Chunk, Inc., the reservation’s economic development company. At the time, the reservation in northeast Nebraska suffered nearly 70 percent unemployment. Today, there are more than 20 companies under the Ho-Chunk umbrella, including All Native Services, and unemployment on the reservation has dropped to less than 10 percent.
All Native Services has an international presence and also offers specialized government programs in operations, maintenance, training and professional services, including government services and temporary and permanent staffing. In 2009, the company produced $25 million in annual revenue, with more than 300 employees in four countries.
Morgan is active in his community, and has ensured more than $1 million from corporation profits have been returned to the community for scholarships, expansion of the tribal college, and job training programs for Winnebago members. He brought the Junior Achievement Organization to the Winnebago School, becoming the nation’s first tribal school on a reservation to offer Junior Achievement to students. Morgan also started a summer intern program that provides outstanding college students of the Winnebago Tribe valuable work experience within a business environment and tracks potential tribe members for prospective employment.
In addition to his leadership with All Native Services, Morgan spearheaded development of a new 40-acre Ho-Chunk Village, offering affordable homes, stores, businesses, a youth center and a town square for tribal members. With a strong commitment to using and developing clean sustainable energy systems, Morgan began a Renewable Energy Division within the firm in 2009. Under his guidance, the firm has deployed numerous wind and solar systems on the reservation and has sold them in the regional marketplace. It is one of the few renewable energy companies with its own production system.
Morgan is a highly sought after leader, and more than 100 tribes across the nation have asked Morgan for advice to replicate his model for economic development. He has received numerous honors and awards, and has been named the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) 2010 Region VII Minority Small Business Person of the Year. SBA’s Region VII includes Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri.