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Bill Thorburn, submitted photo

, Star Tribune

Michelle Martin

, Star Tribune

Inside Track: Proto Labs IPO nearing finish line

  • Article by: NEAL ST. ANTHONY
  • Star Tribune
  • February 11, 2012 - 9:15 PM

Proto Labs is no Facebook.

But the Internet-enabled, quick-turn manufacturer of custom parts for prototyping and short production runs is Minnesota's leading candidate to go public this quarter, as the market strengthens and the capital-raising pipeline warms.

On Feb. 1, Proto Labs filed what could be the last update to its offering documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The company hopes to raise about $100 million-plus in its initial public stock offering. That would be the largest Minnesota IPO since the Great Recession of 2008.

Proto Labs increased earnings by 63 percent in 2011 to $18 million on revenue that rose 52 percent to $99 million, a record year for the private company.

The Maple Plain-based outfit has doubled employment to 511 since 2008 and sold product in more than 50 countries. Proto Labs, founded by Minnesota technologist Larry Lukis, also has acquired a 128,000-square-foot office and manufacturing facility in Rosemount for $4 million, on top of its three-building, 170,000-square-foot campus in Maple Plain, a half hour west of Minneapolis.

The company's shareholders include North Bridge Growth Equity (32 percent), Lukis (36 percent) and 10-year CEO Brad Cleveland (8 percent).

THORBURN LANDS PENNEYS

Designer Bill Thorburn left the old Dayton Hudson Department Stores in 1994 to launch his own company, first in his living room and, for the past 15 years or so, in the warehouse district, where he employs about 15 at the Thorburn Group.

Dayton Hudson Corp. eventually jettisoned its once-cornerstone department stores to focus on Target's expansion. Now Thorburn has just landed some business from a department store company -- J.C. Penney, whose new president is Michael Francis, the former Target marketing boss and longtime Thorburn acquaintance.

A few days ago, Penneys announced turnaround plans, including a new logo, a new spokeswoman (Ellen DeGeneres) and a new merchandising strategy.

Thorburn has been involved in new ''brand shops,'' including the Foundry. "We created it, named it .... a best-case scenario for us because [we're involved in] every 'touch point' of the brand experience: the bag, the product, the store design, the credit card, the Web page, the iPhone app, everything. We're working on their private label brands, St. John's Bay outerwear; Arizona jeans and Stafford tailored suits. Our mission is to say it can't just be a hang tag. It has to be a brand, a point of view, a value and a mission."

Thorburn, 50, said 2011 business was up about 20 percent from 2010 and 2012 should be a banner year, including more hires. Other clients include Best Buy Mobile, UnitedHealth Group, Lutsen Resorts and National Geographic.

Thorburn's award-winning work for American Standard, which makes bathroom fixtures, included websites and social media to support an ongoing water conservation program that worked: www.responsiblebathroom.com. His rebranding of Toys 'R' Us in 2010 was named a top "transformation" by Brandweek.

Thorburn's work also is in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institute and the Library of Congress.

IN BRIEF

The economy is better, the market is surging and private wealth managers are expanding.

Michele Martin, local market director for J.P. Morgan, reports that she's added two more professionals in an office that has doubled to about 20 people over the last year, targeting the $5 million-plus demographic in investment-and-credit relationships.

"Our approach is pretty holistic," Martin said. "We're a true private bank. We don't approach the client with particular product solutions. We approach them around their needs. J.P. Morgan has made a commitment to this space and being an industry leader."

Julio Lacayo, most recently with U.S. Bank's wealth management team, and attorney Thomas Rauenhorst, most recently with U.S. Trust Co., are the most recent additions at J.P. Morgan. Rauenhorst is chair of the Minnesota State Bar Association Probation and Trust Section Council.

U.S. Bank CEO Richard Davis has joined with Mayor R.T. Rybak to solicit new businesses to hire through the city's Step-Up Achieve summer jobs program.

"Investing in Step-Up Achieve is an investment in our collective future," said Davis, who started out as a bank teller after high school. "Step-Up Achieve is now a nationally recognized model for workforce development and youth mentorship and has provided life-changing opportunities for thousands of young people. It also yields tremendous benefits for companies by building a talented future workforce."

More than 80 employers have signed on for 2012 and committed to hire 550-plus kids. Veteran employers include: Adolfson & Peterson Construction, HealthPartners, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, U.S. Bancorp, VA Medical Center, Wells Fargo and Xcel Energy. New employers include ABM Janitorial, Agosto Inc., Mark O. Finney DDS, Mount Olivet Lutheran Church and Reve Consulting. More information: www.achievempls.org

Finnegans, the brewer that donates 100 percent of profit to charity, said revenue rose by 23 percent in 2011 to a record $1 million. Said founder Jacquie Berglund, who has several employees and hundreds of volunteers: "It's wonderful that so many folks enjoy our beer, but the real benefit is feeding more hungry families fresh produce ... through the Emergency Foodshelf Network's Harvest for the Hungry program in the Twin Cities. We're scaling that model statewide and regionwide to other partners who can do the same in the communities they serve."

Little & Co., the venerable Minneapolis design firm, has come up with a way for all of us to be poets and composers on Valentine's Day. Design director Jamie Parker says it's time to "send some good karma into the world" at www.littlelovesong.com. If you like the result, the Little people invite you to support their longtime nonprofit beneficiary, Way To Grow at www.mplswtg.org, which helps parents get kids ready for school. That takes a lot of love and good work.

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