CEO Mike LeJeune reports that Savage-based Fabcon Precast, maker of precast concrete wall panels for national retailers, data centers and other customers, is adding its first plant in 14 years as the company heads for its best year since the Great Recession.
Fabcon is acquiring an idled plant 70 miles south of Kansas City, in Pleasanton, Kan., previously owned by a subsidiary of Cretex Co. LeJeune said the plant, which will hire up to 40 people, will help Fabcon serve Wal-Mart and other customers in the southern tier of the country.
"Kansas City is a growing industrial hub," LeJeune said. "Our customers wanted us to have a plant farther south to serve them."
Fabcon, which employs 950, manufactures panels and walls at plants in Savage, about 25 miles southwest of downtown; Columbus, Ohio and Allentown, Pa. It manufactures for the likes of Target, Home Depot, Nebraska Furniture Mart, Cabela's, Opus and Duke Realty.
LeJeune, 53, who has run the company for 19 years, said Fabcon topped prerecession profitability in 2013. The company, kind of a proxy for America's industrial rebound, survived the recession leaner, more productive and making a better product.
"We're a smarter company than we were before the recession," he said. "We make the lightest, strongest panel in the world. We have invested a lot in technology."
Fabcon over the past eight years has developed panels that use less virgin concrete and up to 60 percent recycled content and more insulation that dovetails with the sustainability movement in architecture and construction, while increasing durability and strength.
LeJeune said Fabcon will post revenue of $240 million to $245 million for 2015. The company, started in 1971 by the late Opus founder Gerald Rauenhorst and a partner, is owned by his Rauenhorst family.
NEW LEADER AT FIRST LIGHT
Brian Beh has signed on as president of First Light Asset Management, the two-year-old firm founded by analyst Matt Arens that specializes in small-cap health care stocks.
Beh, 52, spent 22 years at Roxbury Capital Management, a $3 billion asset manager. In 2009, after he was named CEO, Beh moved Roxbury from Los Angeles to his home base of the Twin Cities, after years of commuting. Beh left Roxbury in November over differences with the majority owner.
"Matt and I were introduced a couple of years ago," Beh said last week. "There's a huge opportunity to grow a public-equity-focused firm right here in the middle of Minnesota 'medical alley.' "
Arens, 40, who worked for years at Kopp Investment Advisors researching health firms, has grown First Light to a $185 million portfolio for investors in less than two years. Arens said Beh understands how to grow and manage a larger investment firm. That will allow Arens to focus on his passion of "identifying health care companies I believe will provide high investment potential for the benefit of our clients."
The addition of Beh also helps fill the void left by the late Steve Crowley at First Light. Crowley, 50, a veteran health care analyst at Craig-Hallum Capital and other investment shops, was killed in a car accident in April, a few weeks after joining First Light.
NO-hands snowplows at the winter carnival
The Minnesota homeowner winter fantasy may be plowing the driveway without getting cold or wet.
Eight teams of junior inventors from eight colleges in the Upper Midwest and Canada were to compete this weekend at the annual "Autonomous Snowplow Competition" during the St. Paul Winter Carnival, sponsored by the Virginia-based Institute of Navigation.
Judged by a panel of technologists from ASTER Labs, Honeywell, Toro, Lockheed Martin, Optum and other companies, the budding scientists are showcasing their inventions through Sunday on the south side of St. Paul's downtown Rice Park.
Previous winners were selected for development-stage snowplows that can adapt to various paths, avoid posts that simulated parking meters, and just flat out move large amounts of snow. Last year's winner, team Redblade from Miami University in Ohio, created a 500-pound vehicle that used a combination of GPS and a scanning laser to navigate around the obstacle-laden plowing course, and clear snow from paths with an area as big as a typical driveway.
We'll name the winner of this year's competition in an upcoming column. Watch highlights from last year's competition at: http://tinyurl.com/kauw6lf.
PRAIRIE WINDS FOR THE IRON RANGE
A large wind farm in North Dakota went into service last week for Minnesota Power, the Duluth-based electric company that once relied almost entirely on coal to generate electricity for the state's Iron Range and northern cities.
With the commissioning of the $345 million Bison 4 wind farm near Salem, N.D., the utility said it is now meeting Minnesota's requirement to generate 25 percent of its electricity from renewable sources — 10 years before the 2025 deadline.
Minnesota Power, the state's third-largest electric utility with 144,000 customers, said Bison 4's 165 turbines rank it as North Dakota's largest wind farm by generating capacity. The power is carried to northern Minnesota via a transmission line that once delivered electricity from a North Dakota coal-burning power plant.
ANOTHER Minnesota burst of wind
Minnesota stands to gain economically by boosting the state mandate for renewable electricity from 25 percent to 40 percent by 2030, says a new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
Under a 2007 state law, utilities must get a quarter of their power from wind and other renewable sources by 2025, and the state's largest power company, Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy, must get 30 percent from renewables by 2020.
UCS said raising the Minnesota renewable energy standard would drive $6 billion in investment, and cost the typical household about 12 cents per month. By 2030, the UCS said, Minnesota could change from a net importer of electricity to a net exporter.
The Legislature passed the current standard in 2007. A 2013 state measure to raise it to 40 percent didn't pass, although lawmakers added a 1.5 percent solar power requirement.