Sen. Klobuchar visits Akkerman Inc.; promotes exports for small and mid-size businesses

Published 6:37 am Wednesday, February 17, 2010

BROWNSDALE — Sen. Amy Klobuchar toured the Akkerman Inc. in Brownsdale yesterday as part of her tour to promote exports for small and mid-size businesses as a way to spur job growth.

“As opposed to the government spending a bunch of money paying people for jobs, we’re trying to help small businesses and medium size businesses create jobs,” Klobuchar said.

Akkerman Inc. fits the bill as one company that has increased exports in recent years. Klobuchar toured the Akkerman Inc. plant with along Mower County representatives and area business officials.

Along with touring Akkerman Inc., Klobuchar also visited businesses in Mankato, Winona, Rushford and St. Peter this week. She also held an export summit for small and medium size business in Rochester on Monday, and she scheduled another summit in Eden Prairie on Wednesday.

“For so long, we’ve been bringing in goods from other countries and importing,” Klobuchar said.

“We have change our county … into an export producer,” she added. “We’re actually making things and sending them out instead of just churning money.”

Before the touring the company’s manufacturing plant, Akkerman Inc. officials told Klobuchar about the company and its growing global market.

Akkerman Inc. manufacturers boring, micro-tunneling and earth-pressure balance machines used to install pipe without digging trenches. For example, Akkerman Inc. machines can tunnel under roads or airports to install water lines or sewer piping.

“We don’t install pipe, we sell equipment to the contractors just like John Deere sells tractors to the farmers,” said Mike Brooks, operations manager.

Akkerman Inc. has about 77 employees. The company has hired six new full-time employees in the last two months, and 11 full-time employees in the last six months.

Klobuchar asked owner Maynard Akkerman why Akkerman Inc. has been able to hire new employees during tough economic times.

“I think one reason for that is we’ve enjoyed an increase in our exports,” Akkerman said.

“That’s a good answer,” Klobuchar replied.

Akkerman Inc. increased sales from about $9 million in 2002 to about $19 million in 2009, according to a company press release. More than 22 percent of the company’s 2002 sales came from exports. Akkerman Inc. has recorded about $6.3 million in foreign sales since Oct. 1, 2009.

Exporting can be difficult for small and medium size businesses because some countries have taxes and certifications for imports, and each company has different standards and rules, said Rob Tumbleson, vice president, sales and marketing. While the company is learning these laws and rules as it expands exports, Tumbleson said the most important way to handle these challenges is through local representation.

While the corporate headquarters for Akkerman Inc. are located in Brownsdale, Akkerman Inc. has representatives around the world in places like Mexico, Brazil, Columbia, Italy, Singapore, Pakistan and Russia. The company also has a regional office in Haryana, India.

“We are truly a global company,” Brooks said.

For example, a package was shipped to Columbia and was quarantined because the wood crate didn’t have certified wood, and officials were concerned it would transport insects and pests. A similar thing happened in Australia, where Akkerman Inc. shipped used machine and Australian officials were concerned the used machine contained foreign soil sediments.

Local representatives are important, Akkerman said, because a mishap the during the first time a company exports to a country can affect future opportunities.

Akkerman said the company is becoming a known name around the county and the world. Since Akkerman’s father, D.H. Akkerman, started the company in 1973, the company has developed a line of 40 items, many more advanced than when the company started. For example, Akkerman said early products could only bore through certain types of soil and sediment, where new machines can cut through rock and more difficult terrain.

“If you don’t innovate, if you don’t bring on new products, you really hurt yourself,” Akkerman said.

In a press release, Klobuchar said that small businesses promote job growth, and she referenced studies that estimate small businesses accounted for 64 percent of new jobs in the last 15 years.

As American businesses export goods to foreign countries and build relationships, Klobuchar said that could open the door for additional businesses.

“We just have not been focusing enough on the export market,” Klobuchar said. “I think the more we have companies like yours go out there, the more that other countries accept good of any kind from the U.S.”