On Thursday morning, Reuven Rahamim bubbled over with enthusiasm about the future of his company, Accent Signage Systems.
For two hours, Rahamim talked about his past successes, his ambitions and his philosophy with a journalist, Todd Nelson, a freelance writer on assignment for the Star Tribune.
He was "passionate about his company, the products, the innovation he brought to Braille signs," Nelson recalled. He said Rahamim was "family oriented," a man who talked about his grandchildren and his environmentally friendly products.
Less than five hours after the interview, Rahamim was dead, the victim of a workplace shooting that erupted in the sign factory that had earned him a visit from politicians and recognition from the White House.
The Israeli-born entrepreneur had big plans for the small company at 2322 Chestnut Av., a long, low building at the northern edge of the Bryn Mawr neighborhood along Bassett Creek.
Inside, about 25 people assembled interior signs for some 3,500 customers worldwide. There were signs for restaurants and offices and other buildings, some backlit, some specially made in Braille in a patented process. Founded in 1984, Accent Signage brought in $5 million to $10 million in annual revenue and had plans for hiring, Nelson was told.
The company has attracted plenty of attention. Last year, Rahamim became a member of the Thinc.GreenMSP Committee, an economic development partnership forged between Minneapolis and St. Paul that aims to promote green-manufacturing businesses and jobs. Then in March of this year, at Mayor R.T. Rybak's invitation, Rahamim went to the White House. He attended a forum with fellow Twin Cities area business leaders and the White House Business Council to talk about how the government and the private sector can collaborate more effectively to foster innovation and job creation.
On Aug. 9, U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce Francisco Sanchez, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Rybak toured Accent Signage to recognize its exemplary exporting practices.
To Nelson, Rahamim described his humble beginnings. He said he had grown up on a farm in Israel with no running water and a hole in the ground for a toilet. By age 14, he was working in a sign factory. He immigrated to the United States, came to Minnesota, and attended Dunwoody College, he told Nelson.
Rahamim showed Nelson around the building, including the large conference room where sample signs hung on every wall, and the areas where signs were made. Nelson completed his interview and left about noon.
Later on Thursday, Nelson imagined what it would have been like to be in the lower-level factory floor as a killer stalked his victims.
"If you're in the basement there, you had no way out," Nelson said.
Staff writer Pamela Miller contributed to this report.