After being located in Eagan for over 50 years, aviation equipment manufacturer Stinar Corp. announced Wednesday that it will be moving about 75 miles south to rural Blooming Prairie by November.
Of the company’s 20 employees, five have committed to making the move, says Stinar President Craig Kruckeberg. He expects around ten more will join them.
For employees who don’t want to make the move, Kruckeberg says he’s been coordinating job opportunities with other companies in the area.
“I don’t like putting people on the street. I’ve never laid anybody off,” Kruckeberg says.
Currently, Kruckeberg owns a diverse range of businesses, including a real estate company, a printing and marketing company, a jumbo-sized peanut distributor, a big rig truck racing show, and a waste and recycling company.
Kruckeberg's decision to move to rural Minnesota comes as other manufacturers in the state continue to close up shop. Last month, St. Michael-based J&B Group Inc. announced plans to shutter its facility in Pipestone, Minn. And in August, Del Monte Foods Inc. said it will permanently shutter its plant in Sleepy Eye this fall.
But Kruckeberg shows both confidence and patience when talking about finding replacement employees, despite the challenges Minnesota employers face when hunting for talent to fill manufacturing jobs.
In rural Blooming Prairie, Kruckeberg said he has access to interested young workers from high schools and colleges, plus seasonal farm workers who are looking for extra work.
For Kruckeberg, part of his decision to move to Blooming Prairie came down to numbers. He says he was able to buy the space in Blooming Prairie for $15 per square foot and sell the Eagan space, which he says wasn’t ideal for manufacturing, for $50 per square foot.
Blooming Prairie, which had a population of 1,996 in the 2010 census, will lose a major employer by spring 2021 when manufacturer Minimizer finishes moving from Blooming Prairie to Owatonna.
Minimizer was started by Kruckeberg’s parents, and then passed to him. Kruckeberg sold his share of Minimizer in August 2019. Kruckeberg says he understands the new owners’ decision to move out of Blooming Prairie, but he’s eager to help stimulate the local economy by relocating Stinar.
Having lived in Blooming Prairie for many years, Kruckeberg says it will be important for the community to build more housing for workers and to attract small businesses.
Stinar has been owned and operated in Minnesota for over 70 years. The company’s ground support equipment has been used by major airlines, the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Air Force One. Stinar’s products include airplane stairways, high lift maintenance trucks, cabin service trucks, stairway trucks, and lavatory carts.
Kruckeberg, who bought Stinar out of bankruptcy in August 2018, plans to use the net gains from selling the Eagan space to invest in more employees and new equipment. Investment in the business’ future was desperately lacking from Stinar’s previous leaders, Kruckeberg says.
Employees worked in a regimented environment with dim lighting and a demoralizing buzzer that signaled lunch breaks, Kruckeberg says. When he removed the buzzer, employees seemed perplexed. “They were beat down so bad for so many years. They were freaked out,” Kruckeberg says.
Kruckeberg saw a workplace in dire need of changes to the status quo. “When they work there for 30 years of their lives, people get set in their ways. This is one of the ways to mess up the status quo. Just move buildings, right? That alone will help. Get them out of their comfort zone.”
A handful of Stinar workers might retire due to the company’s move to Blooming Prairie, Kruckeberg says, so planning for labor in the long term is also a concern.
But he remains optimistic. Kruckeberg says he has met high schoolers near Blooming Prairie who are resisting the pressure to choose four-year degrees. Instead, they are considering shorter education that still leads to steady and lucrative work, Kruckeberg says. “I got a pool here. I just need to get them trained. And I got the team at Stinar that can train these guys.”
Kruckeberg says he feels fortunate that he has the capital to take Stinar through the transition. “If I was looking for a quick gain, this wouldn’t be the investment. I’m just fortunate enough to have the capital from the sale of Minimizer to be able to right the ship.”
In the future, Kruckeberg envisions Stinar making products for additional areas, such as utilities, forestry, and paint materials. Kruckeberg believes in his employees. “They make great stuff. They were just neglected.”
Kruckeberg says working on revamping the company is purposeful work. “I don’t need a paycheck, but I still need a project. If I can help one person get better in life, I can do 20-plus at Stinar.”