BROOKINGS – Growth, via capital investment, infrastructure and employment, are “a few key areas” that Mike Barry, chief executive officer of Twin City Fan Companies, headquartered in Plymouth, Minnesota, said are in store for Brookings.

TCF is “an industry leading designer and manufacturer of high quality, custom, semi-custom and standard fans … .”

Photo Courtesy of John Kubal/Register: Mike Barry, CEO of Twin City Fan Companies, listens to a briefing from Terry Niemuth, continuous improvement manager of the Brookings TCF plant, during a recent tour of the facility by the CEO and the board of directors.

Barry, CEO for two years come June, flew into Brookings with the TCF 12-member board of directors on Thursday and met with them after a tour of the plant. It was the first time the board has met in Brookings.

“No. 1, we are making some significant capital investment back into the factory,” Barry said.

“We’re spending about $10 million this year in all of South Dakota,” he added. “Our plan for the next couple of years is to spend about $12 million just in capital improvements in South Dakota.” 

TCF has four locations in the state: Brookings, Mitchell, Aberdeen and a small plant in Elkton. 

Brookings is the largest and ranks No. 1 in the lineup of TCF facilities in the state. The plant opened here in 1984 and was the first TCF facility in South Dakota.

“I would call Brookings our headquarters location in all of South Dakota,” Barry said.  “Most of our senior staff is located here; some of our best talent is located here.” 

100 new job opportunities

“I’d say over the next five years or so, between capital for equipment and building upgrades, we’re talking about spending somewhere between $40 million and $70 million in South Dakota,” he added, looking to TCF’s future in the state.

“Brookings would get at least 25 to 30 percent of that. It’s about improving the infrastructure; and the benefit to that is we’re trying to make sure that we’re known as one of the best places to work, within the organization and within the city.

“There’s a lot of competition in town. There’s just a lot of pressure for employees. This is a metal-manufacturing facility. It is a really important part, I think, to the mix of labor within the state. And this is a really important occasion.

“We want to try to do the best we can for the community, for the state. We’ve done a lot to try to improve things for our workforce here, and we’re continuing to do that,” Barry said.

Barry said there are about 280 TCF employees in Brookings now. “And we’d like to add another 100 over the next three years.

“Frankly, we could use 50 more right now. We have that many openings that we could easily fill. But there is the labor shortage that we do struggle with here in Brookings.”

The CEO called the labor shortage “a perpetual problem throughout the state,” adding that “it’s a national issue right now. There’s a lot of manufacturing jobs and the unemployment rates are pretty low.” It’s a national problem.

Limber, nimble and quick

Barry likes having South Dakota State University in Brookings, noting that its graduates fill a lot of the important engineering skill sets needed at TCF, such as drafting and designing.

“We’re moving more of that type of work from Minneapolis to South Dakota,” he explained. “We’ve created more of a global presence with our technology and our engineering; and we want to put more here.

“We used to keep most of that in the Twin Cities. But as equipment has modernized, as the design tools have modernized, you need engineers and designers everywhere. You need them in each of the facilities.”

Also still needed in the TCF “labor and talent pool” are welders, painters and machinists. Add to that mix employees with strong skill sets in robotics and sophisticated machinery.

TCF offers training and education to its employees to help them gain additional skills. “People can move themselves up and go as far as they want within the organization,” Barry said.

“It’s to bring the board up to speed on the things that we are doing,” the CEO said of the board’s visit to Brookings. “It’s showing the board the enhancements that we are making; and it’s for the board to push management to do even more.

“Their job is to hold me as the CEO accountable and hold the rest of the management accountable.”

Barry explained that as a privately-held company, TCF is not required to have a board of directors, but he believes “it’s critical that we have one.”

“I want to make sure that we are limber, nimble and quick and we’ve got someone to push us to do more … to push harder, think outside the box and do more with what you’ve got.”

The CEO called TCF’s relationship with the City of Brookings “a two-way street,” adding, “I think we’ve worked well with each other. Now there’s an opportunity to take it up even further.”  

COURTESY OF: The Brookings Register

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