Tag Archives: Sustainable

The Business News: Colby Metal

Strategic evolution key for Colby Metal
Fabricating business has nearly doubled its sales in the last 10 years

Nestled in the small community of Colby, the metal fabrication specialists at Colby Metal take on the name of the community that they love. Their workers are their lifeblood and most come from Colby. Because of that they are constantly involved in the community. Using their expertise and equipment, they produce fire rings to help a variety of charities including supporting the Wounded Warrior Project, local cancer patients and the Jamison Kampmeyer Memorial. The strong desire to give back to the community has only been made possible by the success their business has experienced in recent years.

Despite the fact that manufacturing was hit hard during the recession, Colby Metal has thrived and is now looking to expand. Products they produce are as diverse as the capabilities they have to produce them. The combination of laser cutting, laser tube sawing, CNC forming & punching, robotic welding, sheet metal fabrication, powder coating and milling has created a wide array of products for a variety of industries. Combined with lean initiatives, this collection of skills has created a niche that enabled Colby Metal to grow will others struggled. Mark and Darla Viegut currently co-own the company with Mark Nemschoff. Darla credits their success to “Mark’s (Viegut) focus on versatility – healthcare, automotive, lighting – not just having one customer or industry focus.” Mark Viegut sums up their success with one word. Service. “We show our service before, during and after the sale.” This versatility and commitment to service has allowed them to nearly double their sales in the last ten years, with most of that growth occurring in the last five years.

Colby Metal doesn’t produce many items that go directly to market but rather produces important components that enable their customers to create finished products. This model gives them global reach from their small town in western Wisconsin. Their components have driven on the dangerous roads of Iraq and Afghanistan, allow patients to be more comfortable during their hospital stay and help restaurants provide their customers excellent food and service. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – this list could go on and on.

Mark, who also serves as Vice President, describes his company as “a one stop shop” and has been called “the best kept secret” by their customers. Unfortunately, being a secret in the metal fabrication industry isn’t always the best key to success and their hoping to change that with some new initiatives. Despite their past success Mark admits that there is a “missing link” to the company. All new ideas and strategic directions are directed by a small group of owners. Like many business owners, they want to ensure there is a system in place to help guide the business that they’ve spent years growing and improving, as they begin stepping out of the day to day operational picture.

For Colby Metal, the first step was to develop their newly minted business plan. Initially created to be their road map to the future, it also captures some of the strategic elements they need to focus on for long term viability. One of these elements is to establish an advisory board. Darla, also Director of Human Resources, hopes “an advisory board will bring new ideas to business at a higher level.” The owners also expect that this will provide more structure to decision making. Right now, they are in the process of writing guidelines for the board. Advisory boards differ from corporate boards by providing advice and guidance rather than providing governance to large corporations. Many entrepreneurs and small to medium business owners turn to advisory boards as they expand and look to remain viable by creating strategic objectives.

Although there are many key focus areas, one of the most important was to review and update their organization structure. They realized that their management structure was still operating as it was before their growth occurred. Based on that, Colby Metal re-examined their organizational structure and has redesigned it to cater to a growing company. Now that they’ve revamped their structure, they plan to get the right people in the right position and then create stability that will allow them to excel at their roles. With current managers taking on more responsibility and new managers in the mix, they also established a three phase training program to give their leaders the skills they need to succeed. Skills include flexibility, communication, following up and delegation to start and evolve into being a visionary leader that can lead change and motivate a team to success. Not only will this training give their current leaders the skills they need to take Colby Metal to the next level, but it gives the organization the confidence that their leaders are ready to assume roles with greater responsibilities when the time comes.

Hard work and dedication combined with expertise in a high demand field led Colby Metal to success, but continuing that success into the future will take a different approach. Colby Metal has made a commitment to grow and evolve. Their business plan, advisory board and setting conditions to allow their management team to succeed will help Colby Metal look into the future and set a strategic path that will guide them to growth and continuing success.

Published in The Business News on July 6, 2015

 

The Business News: UWSP’s Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology

WIST research helps fuel business innovation
UWSP institute looks for creative ways to spark local economic development

Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology (WIST), part of UW-Stevens Point’s College of Natural Resources, provides research, laboratory services, and education for business and industry. Their ultimate goal is to bring new ideas and innovation from the university to the private sector. Based on the results they’ve achieved in the six years since their inception and the ongoing demand from local businesses for their services, they’ve lived up to their lofty expectations. Now they’re looking to push the envelope to find new and creative ways to spark local economic development.

Justin Hall, WIST project manager, analyzes natural extracts from potato peels.
Photo courtesy of UW-Stevens Point

“All the work we do is with some form of business partnership,” explained Paul Fowler, Executive Director of WIST. “We focus on improving economic development, sustainability, and minimizing environmental impact and naturally find ourselves working with industries that utilize natural resources.” Some of these include the paper industry, vegetable and fruit growers, and companies looking to utilize biomass waste from these processes. Just in the paper and packaging industry alone they have provided learning and training opportunities to 480 professionals.

Paul Fowler

These connections have translated into opportunities as Bill Cunningham, Manager of Integrated Solutions for Siemens Water Solutions in Rothschild, can attest. “It’s critically important that we have, one, a place to go to where we can have some of these short-term research efforts undertaken and not be delayed by our current research project commitments. And secondly, where we can do it at a place where we can train up students at the undergraduate or the graduate level and hopefully, long-term relationships develop and this becomes a feeder source for our future employment candidates as well. Siemens may be global, but having a local resource like WIST means we can undertake a greater volume of research with our current research staffing, and help develop the talent we’ll need to rely on in the years to come,” Cunningham said.

One measure of WIST’s economic impact is that they have received approximately $12 million in federal and state grants and $1.5 million in private sector investments. This infusion of financial support has allowed WIST scientists the opportunity to conduct valuable research that is then used by local companies to grow their business and local economic impact. “Patents have resulted from some of our biomass research and are being scaled up by American Science & Technology out of Wausau,” said Fowler. “That’s just one of the many examples. We are also working with Okray Family Farms (located in Plover) on an interesting project where we have a test plot of cold weather grapes with plans to extract the resveratrol which possibly prevents symptoms of certain diseases, like Parkinson’s.”

Pacon Corporation, located in Appleton, and owner of the Strathmore Artist Papers brand, also reached out to WIST after learning about their capabilities. As a result, they now offer fine art papers in three grades to customers across North America. “We could not have launched our Printmaking program, especially in the timeframe, without UWSP. We have been able to bring new products to the market, made in Wisconsin paper mills, that will help us continue to grow our business and cement our position as an innovative supplier of fine art papers,” stated Jim McDermott, EVP of Sales and Marketing for Strathmore Artist Papers, after the project was completed.

Founded in 2010, WIST was initially comprised of a part-time staff that focused only a small portion of their time on the new initiative. Quickly recognizing the demand and potential, Fowler was brought on as the first full-time employee. By December 2014, they were up to 13 staff members. Recent funding decisions at the state level have since decreased that number, but the “work hasn’t dried up, that’s for sure,” Fowler mentioned when discussing their capacity. Unfortunately, some crucial projects, such as biomass fermentation research, have been put on hold until additional funding is available. To fill some of that void, they’ve turned to students. More than 40 students have been involved in WIST training and research.

UW-Stevens Point’s initial ties to the paper industry were the foundation of WIST, but with Wisconsin being one of the top global producers of snapbeans, carrots, potatoes, cranberries, and other fruits and vegetables, working with some of the region’s farmers and growers was a natural extension. With their research efforts, they will continue to infuse innovation into local businesses that rely heavily on natural resources and central Wisconsin will likely see new markets and industries formed, spurring economic development for the entire region.

Published in The Business News on March 13, 2017