Tours offer inside look into plants

BLUE EARTH – The public saw some things they don’t usually get to see on Saturday when two Blue Earth plants opened their doors for the Tour of Manufacturing.

The event is presented annually by the Economic Growth Collaborative of South Central Minnesota. Its intent is to educate people about local manufacturers and share career opportunities.

Aerospace Systems was a first-time participant and Express Diagnostics International took part for the second year. Both businesses conducted nearly non-stop tours Saturday.

“From a community standpoint, we want people to know what we do,” said Lori Rumann, HR manager at Aerospace. “It’s the first time we’ve done this because of the confidentiality we have with our customers.”

Aerospace plant manager Jaime Taylor described the event as “an opportunity for us to communicate with the community why manufacturing and industry is a critical part of the community. Probably very few people know there’s a company of this type working with this technology in the cornfields.”

Express Diagnostics was eager for a return.

“We had such a good turnout last year; there was a demand to know more about the company and what goes on here,” said Aaron Wangen, vice president of marketing and communications. “It’s good if we do have openings, people know what goes on in the company. As a company, we’re always looking for talented people.”

The two Blue Earth facilities continue to increase production.

After shuffling people and product around three buildings in Fairmont, Aerospace moved to Blue Earth five years ago and set up shop in its current 140,000-square foot building. The manufacturer produces electrical cable assemblies and wired box assemblies for the defense industry, which are used in defense equipment, including radios and communication gear, missiles and missile launchers, satellite communications and aerospace and ground vehicle systems. Workers also make rugged rubber-molded assemblies.

They can make cable as long as 110 feet, said Steve Hurd, engineering manager, or as short as a few inches.

“The customer base is looking for newer and more flexible cable that form-fits the application,” Taylor said. “The traditional round cable is becoming less and less the need.”

Express Diagnostics International started in Blue Earth in 2004 and specializes in drug testing kits. Workers assemble the various kits with test strips to meet customers’ specific orders and ship them all over the world. Two of the largest customer orders come from Australia and Mexico.

One delivery to Australia can include 28,000 devices, said Gary Jueneman, vice president and general manager.

Express Diagnostics has 95 employees, and sales from 2006-2013 have grown an average of 25 percent, said Wangen.

“Forty to 50 percent of sales is international and growing each year,” he said.

Production employees work from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and get a three-day weekend, said Jueneman.

At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work. Sometimes there are so many orders, they ask for volunteers to work Fridays.

“This year has been incredible,” Jueneman said. “To me, it’s a good thing we have to work more; it means business is good.”

He said the company has even added a small second shift to run one line and that might expand to two lines next year.

The building Express Diagnostic now occupies is big enough for the foreseeable future, Wangen said, with the option to expand if necessary.