By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN As the snow begins to melt this spring, there will be lots of activity taking place on the southeastern corner of Winsted Industrial Park.
That is where construction is to begin on a new facility to house M & N Structures, which specializes in structural engineering and steel fabrication. The 20-year-old business will be located on the last remaining lot in Winsted Industrial Park.
The new, estimated 28,000-square-foot facility will be quite a contrast from the 1,000-square-foot garage the business owners Kevin and Betsy Niemeier rented many years ago when they first started their steel fabrication business.
Their son, Jim, and son-in-law, Jonathan Henriksen joined them later.
An estimated groundbreaking is scheduled for March or April, with plans to be ready for business in Winsted the beginning of August.
It’s been five years since M & N moved to its current location in Plymouth. With the lease ending, the family knew it was time to look for a new location to give them the additional space the steel fabrication portion of their business needs.
“The difficulty with a small space like we have right now is loading four trucks in a row and finding a place to park four trucks. We don’t have a lot of space to move around in anymore,” Henriksen said. “One of the benefits of the site in Winsted is we can store finished product and we can load multiple trucks and have space to move our finished product around instead of the finished product taking over our free space.”
Besides the additional space, another advantage of the move to Winsted is having K-Way Express trucking and AZZ Galvanizing Services just down the street.
“It (Winsted) is an industrial community with a lot of good manufacturing history and a lot of good manufacturing facilities,” Henriksen said, “with opportunities significantly better than anywhere else we looked.”
The lot in the industrial park was suggested to M & N by RAM Buildings co-owner Rollie Radtke.
M & N had done steel work for RAM on some projects and when Radtke learned they were looking for property, he suggested they come out last fall to look at the last lot in the industrial park.
“We had driven out to Winsted before, but just assumed it would be too expensive and so we were looking further out,” Betsy said.
Although free property had been offered to M & N to relocate its business to another town, the family agreed on Winsted.
“This is more of an industrial community,” Betsy said. “For us, it is a little more expensive because we have to pay for the land versus them giving it to us, but in the end, I think we are better off where we are.”
M & N is primarily a structural and miscellaneous steel fabricator for commercial and industrial-type buildings such as hospitals and schools.
For the most part, M & N does very little design work. It’s either design and fabricate, or just fabricate, according to Betsy.
Kevin is the structural engineer on projects. Betsy usually brings in the job, and the shop drawings for steel fabrication are done by either Henriksen or Jim, depending on who is not busy. They use the plan that the engineer or Kevin developed.
Henriksen and Jim use three-dimensional software that sends the information to automated equipment, which does the drilling, and then each piece is marked for its location.
In the new facility, plans include a new drill line to cut the steel as well as drill it, and scribe each piece with an identification marker for its future location.
Each piece of steel that is fabricated by M & N is for a specific spot, in a specific building. It could be compared to steel puzzle pieces dropped off at a job site to be put together.
During this interview, Betsy and Henriksen went over a recent project they did both the structural engineering and steel fabrication for. It is a large shopping center located at I-394 and Highway 100 in St. Louis Park.
In addition to restaurants, a huge movie theater, a grocery store, and numerous other shops, half of which are constructed on top of an underground parking lot, M & N did the columns, framing, and arch of a pedestrian walkway.
To illustrate the importance of precision in their finished product, a 40-foot-wide, 10-foot-high arched-truss was raised by a crane to its location.
“We took the guys from the shop out to the site when the erector was putting this up,” Henriksen said.
“With a crane, they carried the truss over to a guy hanging on the side of the column. He stuck his wrench through a bolt hole in the top of a column and they brought the 45-foot-piece over and set it down on this wrench. He pushed a bolt through with his fingers and tightened it.”
The bolt holes were in perfect alignment.
M & N has three shop employees in addition to the four office people.
“We are looking to grow. and the facility has space so we can grow into it. It is definitely our plan to take extra business and to have more people come on board,” Henriksen said.
History of M & N Structures
Kevin began M & N Structures out of an office in the family home in 1987. Betsy joined him in 1992, bringing business experience in finances.
When Betsy was asked if she had ever thought about owning and running a structural engineering and steel fabrication business, she replied she graduated with a major in music.
The couple started the steel fabrication part of their business in a garage they rented in Minnetonka where Jim joined them after graduating from the University of Illinois Champagne in 1995, where he had majored in mathematics.
“The garage was not even 1,000 square feet,” Betsy said. “Jim did most of the fabricating out of the garage. When he started, he would draw it and then go out and fabricate it. We have come a long way from welding, drilling, and marking it (steel) all by hand.”
After a year in very cramped quarters, the business was moved to an industrial warehouse complex in Minnetonka, and M & N remained there for nine years.
“We used to put in a lot of hours on Saturdays and Sundays and evenings,” Betsy said. “But now, we have streamlined it. We work smarter.”
In 2005, Henriksen graduated from St. Olaf College and joined the company, which had moved to its current location in Plymouth.
In addition to Jim, Kevin and Betsy have two other children: Kathryn, who is married to Henriksen, and David, who is a junior at the University of St. Thomas.