A market for metalsPublished 4:04am Wednesday, April 17, 2013
h4>—This feature originally appeared in Progress 2013. Get a copy at the Austin Daily Herald office, 310 Second St. NE.
A budding business is fabricating jobs across Blooming Prairie
The odor of burnt metal wafted through industrial buildings in Blooming Prairie and out through the ventilation units. The stronger that odor grows, the more it smells like success.
Dennis Heimerman pushed the pause button on his busy day of phone calls, running numbers and bidding jobs and opened the door to the 32,000-square-foot shop. That’s the same spot he’d often rather be working, side-by-side with his laborers, instead of punching numbers behind a desk.
Heimerman is the owner of Metal Services in Blooming Prairie, the catalyst that fuels several other businesses within the small town, such as Tyler Mundy’s Heavy Metal and Greg Peterson’s Extreme Powder Coating. While Heimerman is more than qualified to talk about the business side of things, he can’t help but chatter about the fabrication side. That’s where he got his start, worked for years and built his own company.
First and last stop
Heimerman eagerly maneuvered around a delivery truck and piles of steel to his newest tool, a computerized laser cutter he purchased in October for extremely accurate cuts.
“It’s crazy that a light beam can cut steel,” Heimerman said as he peered through the window at the laser cutter, which trimmed fine notches and curves for materials to eventually go on firetrucks.
Cuts like that — along with plasma cutting, pipe bending, sawing and welding— are just the beginning stages for chunks of steel about to be shipped around Blooming Prairie for further trimming or painting and returned to Metal Services as finished products to fire departments, waste services and construction sites throughout the region.
Across town, several more of Heimerman’s 25 employees are working on smaller, local projects — welding, cutting, repairing and fitting pieces onto machinery — often for local farmers and laborers.
“We try to take care of the little guy and the big guy both,” Heimerman said. “It presents its own challenges sometimes.”
But Heimerman isn’t alone in those challenges. One company doesn’t need to specialize in everything.
Heavy metal — literally
Longtime acquaintance of Heimerman and seasoned machine operator Tyler Mundy opened Heavy Metal in one of Heimerman’s buildings in Blooming Prairie — a short jaunt from Metal Services.
“He had this vision of bringing a lot of business into Blooming Prairie,” Mundy said about Heimerman.
That vision is working. Mundy, who machined parts for years and then transitioned into sales for a while was ready for another career change. He even sold cars for a stint; that wasn’t nearly interesting enough for him. So Heimerman negotiated with Mundy with hopes that Mundy would open a business.
“It was just an opportunity, and I had a building that was open,” Heimerman said.
Sure, an electric guitar hangs on Mundy’s office wall next to a graphic of the company logo, but rock ’n’ roll has nothing to do with the name of his business.
Heavy Metal does the tedious work. Mundy and his employees machine and finish the bushings and small, specialty parts that connect to larger machinery. The business wasn’t fully operational until October; however, Mundy said about 30 percent of his business now comes through Metal Services. Not only does that keep business churning in Blooming Prairie, it makes operations easier for those Blooming Prairie businesses and their customers.
“A lot of times, people don’t want to deal with more than one person,” Heimerman said about his customers.
So that’s why Metal Services handles the load for them. Parts come in to Metal Services, and they leave from Metal Services.
“Even if it’s going to be subbed by a machine shop, we try to handle the whole thing,” Heimerman added.
But there’s more.
Just around a couple corners, Greg Peterson runs Extreme Powder Coating, where he puts the finishing touches of color on cars, sheets of metal, all the way down to simple railings.
In 2000, Peterson started his business as he saw the influx of dirt track racing in the area but saw few people in the region offering powder coating. He, too, was ready for a career change. But he didn’t roll the dice until he spoke with Heimerman. Now they’ve been doing business for 12 years.
“Dennis was absolutely the first person I called to start a powder coat business,” Peterson said, who frequently does business with Metal Services. “Every day, there is something different in here from those guys.”
And Peterson exchanges business with Heavy Metal, too, all the way down to painting custom beer taps for one of Mundy’s customers — beer taps that Mundy made. The three businesses feeding off of each other has formed a “trifecta,” as Peterson calls it.
“I’m pretty excited about Tyler being around,” Peterson said. “I think there is a need for that sort of thing.”
Even a few more, nearby businesses sometimes fit into the equation.
Back at Metal Services, Heimerman returned to his phone calls and paperwork while his son, Ryan, sat in another office, negotiating with other professionals.
People say the metals industry isn’t where it used to be in the early 2000s, but it’s slowly creeping back from the recession. Heimerman noted when construction projects hit a lull and heavy machinery companies stopped needing parts, he was the next to take the brunt of it.
“A lot of our customers took a hit, so, inevitably, we did,” he said.
In 2006 Heimerman built his new, 32,000-square-foot facility and moved into it in 2007, but after 2008, the recession hit the metals industry, along with plenty of others.
“We’re not quite back to where we were in 2008,” Heimerman said.
Yet the outlook is promising. A pile of parts often waits at Mundy’s shop, ready to go back to Metal Services before finally being returned to the customer. And like every day, a truckload of new material rolls through the garage door at Metal Services, as the aroma of freshly cut steel hits the breeze.