Who’s Behind Duluth’s Businesses?
Index: Duluth Special Report
Moline Machinery has been in business in West Duluth since 1945. It manufactures customized bakery equipment for large food companies, mostly in North America. The company’s machines make “everything from doughnuts to ciabatta,” Sales and Marketing Manager David Moline says. The company employs about 90, including 15 engineers. “The workforce has always been pretty stable for us. We require a lot of skilled- trades guys,” says the fourth-generation family member. Early last year, the company added a 20,000-square-foot innovation center, which a city grant helped seed. “We try to show a full-scale production line,” he says of the center. “It’s been a great selling tool for us.” Though the company also sells some equipment overseas, it has no plans to move from its hometown. Duluth is “an accessible location,” Moline says. “Proximity to the Twin Cities is an advantage.”
A native of Duluth, Alessandro Giuliani was a driving force behind converting part of the former Clyde Iron Works in West Duluth into an event center, hockey facility, and restaurant that has won both business and preservation awards. He and business partner Sandy Hoff are now developing Pier B, a $35 million resort/retail complex just south of downtown on the waterfront. Once again, Giuliani is working to remediate and repurpose an abandoned industrial site—in this case, one that once was home to LaFarge Cement. Giuliani says that his work is as much about community as it is about making money. “I don’t think we’ve seen our best yet in Duluth,” he says.
Duluth-area aircraft manufacturers Cirrus and Kestrel, along with jet maintenance company AAR, dominate the city’s high-flying aviation sector. But they’re far from the whole story. Another member of the hub is Monaco Air, which provides fueling, de-icing, and aircraft maintenance services to airlines, general aviation, and the military. Now employing 25, Monaco Air has seen steady increases in business since its founding in 2005. Principal Owner Don Monaco also is president of the Duluth Economic Development Authority and co-chair of the Northern Aero Alliance, a regional aviation industry group. “The trend line is clearly the growth of the business climate—it’s getting better and stronger,” Monaco says.
Lisa Bodine came to Duluth in 2004 from the Twin Cities, where the Carlson School of Management grad held positions at Target Corporation and Sysco Minnesota. Giant Voices, the company she co-owns with her business partner, Pascha Apter, is a branding, advertising, public relations, and strategic marketing firm for clients that include Duluth-area, Twin Cities, and national companies and organizations.
“I always dreamed of being a business owner, and my sales and marketing experience over the past 16 years has prepared me for where I am today and provided the professional credibility,” Bodine says. She describes Giant Voices as a firm that works with clients as “a strategic partner, not just a vendor.”
Though a Duluthian for less than a decade, Bodine is extensively connected in the local business and philanthropic realms, serving on several boards, including the St. Luke’s Hospital board and the Northland Foundation board of trustees.
“The Duluth community is an incredible one to be a part of,” she says. Though newcomers have to be deliberate in building networks, “it’s very easy for young professionals to engage and learn from seasoned and experienced executives from a leadership perspective. People here want to help the next generation of leaders evolve.” Bodine notes that she was able to chair a local board at the age of 32. “If you want to engage and make a difference, you can do that and really see the outcome and the benefit of what you put in,” she says. “I think that’s a unique attribute of this community.”
The Bluestone Commons project is Stillwater-based Summit Management’s biggest Duluth deal yet. The developer has been working on apartment projects in Duluth since 1997. In 2010, it acquired a sizable piece of property near the University of Minnesota Duluth campus, and began working with the city to create a development that will comprise 40,000 square feet of retail space and 250 units of housing. The first phase will be completed in August. “Duluth is a great place to develop,” Summit Management Owner Mark Lambert says. “We have had good experience with the city and leadership. They understand the requirements to develop property. So they’ve been very helpful in terms of trying to steer us along the right path.”