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BTD continues to grow

DETROIT LAKES - The clink of metal is heard often, as is the view of sparks from a welding torch, walking through the plant at BTD Manufacturing.

Machinery bends and folds metal into shapes that companies need to build the things we use in everyday life, and the pieces line and stack like giant tinker-toys ready to be assembled.

The BTD Manufacturing plant is one of those Detroit Lakes fixtures that seems to have been here for years, and while it has been around since 1980, it has made big changes in the last five years and is continually growing and diversifying.

BTD, which produces metal products to build things like snowmobiles, utility vehicles, and tractors (just to name a few), has been growing in sales revenue every year.

In 1999, its sales revenue was $29 million. Five years later, in 2004, it more than doubled that number to $68 million.

The projection for 2008 is $115 million in sales revenue.

CEO Paul Gintner said there are many reasons for the growth, but it can possibly be most attributed to the recent diversification of the markets they produce metal parts for.

When Erling Rasmussen and Paul White, Jr. first started in 1979, BTD -- then known as Bismarck Tool & Die -- was more focused on the recreational vehicle market, working mainly for companies like Polaris and Arctic Cat to build frames and metal parts for their snowmobiles and 4-wheelers.

While that market still takes up a large share of BTD's job, Gintner said they've expanded to the agricultural market for companies like John Deere and AgCo, the lawn and garden industry, and investing in wind energy.

"We want to branch out and not concentrate on one market and limit ourselves," Gintner said. "But we want to stay true to the metal industry and look for different ideas on who can use our products. We want to dominate the metal industry."

BTD has also expanded in the way of acquiring other companies and expanding to other areas of the state and country.

Its most recent acquisition was of Miller Welding and Iron Works of Washington, Ill., which BTD acquired in May.

Miller Welding and Iron Works fabricates products for companies like Caterpillar and other heavy equipment.

With the acquisition, BTD employs a total of 570 people, with 350 in Detroit Lakes, about 100 at its facilities in Lakeville, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis, and 120 at Miller Welding.

A small sector of Miller Welding and Iron Works is also focused on wind energy as well as making parts for oil fields and offshore oil rigs, markets that BTD is looking to expand and invest in.

Gintner said the investment in wind energy and the oil market is in line with the current economical state.

"In any type of recession, there's something trying to counteract the recession," he explained. "We look at all the conditions in the world economy constantly, trying to stay up with technology to help us grow."

He said BTD is "always worried" about the slowing of manufacturing, with plants closing recently in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

It's for that reason that BTD has worked to expand its services, but it has also been focusing on bringing in new employees and training them for a lifelong career through a new program at Minnesota State Community and Technical College.

The partnership is a Supervised Leadership Program, which helps participants get a two-year degree in leadership and management.

"It gives workers additional training while they work here," Gintner said.

He said with the slowing national market for manufacturing, he and his staff are trying to "make manufacturing cool again."

"This sounds bad, but if you're a parent, no one wants their kid to be a welder or a truck driver. Their expectations are much higher than that," Gintner said. "But kids shouldn't always be pressured to go to a four-year college or university. Some kids are technical and are good at working with their hands. They shouldn't be misled to a white-collar job."

Gintner said many BTD employees have accelerated their careers through education.

"They've all made significant gains," he said.

Gintner said the future holds even more growth for BTD.

"Potentially, more in Minnesota, but we'll also expand geographically," he said. "We have DL, and the Cities, and now Illinois. It's a good footprint when we look at where to go next."

He said they're always preparing for the future, whether it's in acquisitions or in new technology, or a new computer database to better track progress and communication.

"We aren't planning today for tomorrow. We're planning today for three or four years from now," Gintner said. "And that idea goes all the way back to the original owners."

For more information on BTD Manufacturing, visit its Web site at