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Manufacturing is hot career choice, notes Klobuchar

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar listened to Douglas Machine CEO Vern Anderson during a tour of the plant last Friday. The company employs about 700 workers. (Photo by Al Edenloff)

It was hard to tell who was more excited Friday: Douglas Machine leaders who escorted U.S. Senator Amy Kloubchar through the company's facilities or Klobuchar, who was impressed with what she learned.

"This is a great example of a company doing right by its employees and growing with the times," the senator said, referring to the employee-owned company's growing bio sciences division, Douglas Scientific.

Klobuchar visited Alexandria, Breckenridge and Elbow Lake as part of a two-day science and technology education tour.

In addition to learning about successful, growing companies, Klobuchar wanted to discuss the importance of providing students and workers with the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills needed to succeed in the 21st century economy.

She also met with the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission and the president of Alexandria Technical and Community College (ATCC), Kevin Kopischke.

After touring Douglas Machine, Klobuchar said it was heartening to see the company's "clean, open and welcoming" work environment, which included many women employees. She said the notion that manufacturing is a dirty, male-only industry that's dying is untrue.

Klobuchar said that young people, including high school girls, need to know that manufacturing is a hot career right now with plenty of openings. She added that Douglas Machine, for instance, needs more machinists.

Klobuchar said it's important to get young people fired up about manufacturing at an early age. "Waiting until they get out of high school is too late," she said. "They need to see it as something cool right now."

Douglas Machine COO Rick Paulsen and CEO Vern Anderson presented the senator with many tidbits of information about the company, which currently has about 700 employees.

•Founded in 1964, Douglas Machine became 100 percent employee owned in 2000.

•Douglas Scientific was added in 2004.

•The company's total payroll is about $38 million.

•The company's export revenue has grown and now accounts for 11 percent of its total revenues. Canada and Mexico are its biggest markets. About 95 percent of its business is from outside Minnesota.

•Since 2008, Douglas has added 100,000-square-feet of space and more than 220 employees.

•Most workers stay with Douglas for many years. About 160 of them have been with the company for 20 or more years.

•The company's turnover rate is low, about 5 percent per year.

•The company has reported record amounts of revenue for eight straight years.

•The company gives back to the community. About 7 percent of its net income is contributed to charitable causes. It matches employees' contributions to United Way up to $1,000 per year, per employee.

Paulsen told Klobuchar that Douglas Machine is fortunate to have cooperation from the school district, ATCC and the city. They work together to strengthen the local manufacturing base and fill the growing demand for highly skilled workers.

From a political standpoint, Paulsen said one of the company's concerns is government over-regulation. He said that regulatory issues used to be the domain of the legislative branch but lately, federal agencies have now been actively involved, such as the Department of Labor, Health and Human Services, the National Labor Relations Board and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Paulsen also urged Klobuchar to protect employee-owned companies from tax reform measures. He said that having an employee-owned company and the benefits that go along with it, has helped Douglas Machine retain key employees over the years.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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