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Making it in Fargo-Moorhead: Manufacturing sector helps make local economy run

Shawn Dugan works on an engine at Interstate Assembly Systems in West Fargo. Dave Olson/The Forum1 / 4
Brian Hotten holds one of the products offered by GoodBulb, a Fargo-based maker and wholesaler of light bulbs. Dave Olson/The Forum2 / 4
GoodBulb CEO Tom Enright, seated, enjoys a moment with a group of villagers in Uganda, where Enright has been distributing free solar-powered lamps. Sepcial to the Forum3 / 4
A young child holds a solar-powered lamp provided by GoodBulb, a Fargo-based company that uses some of its proceeds to distribute lamps to areas dependent on expensive fuels like kerosene. Special to The Forum4 / 4

FARGO—With all the talk about American manufacturing disappearing, the often-heard question is this: Does America make anything anymore?

The answer may be closer to home than you think.

In the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area alone, more than 200 companies are regarded as manufacturing enterprises or value-added agricultural firms, according to information provided by the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp. and the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce.

The categories of manufacturing and value-added agriculture are important because such companies tend to be primary sector firms, which means they bring in dollars from outside the region, said Mark Vaux, FMEDC vice president for business development.

Economic drivers

"We focus on primary sector development because that drives the economy in every community," Vaux said, adding that depending on how manufacturing is defined, the area offers lots of it.

"We've got whiskey, beer, donut toppings, energy drinks, bread and flour. But, if we get right down to it, manufacturing specifically starts with metal manufacturing—somebody's got to produce the metal so everybody else can make the parts," Vaux said.

The list of local metal manufacturers includes names like McNeilus Steel; Mid America Steel; TrueNorth Steel; and Standard Industries, according to Vaux, who said from there the steel goes to other companies that make things out of it.

One maker of things is Interstate Assembly Systems, 525 12th Ave. N.E., West Fargo, which assembles, among other things, garbage trucks for a European company that is marketing the trucks in North America.

"We're a tier-one supplier for major OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and our market is transportation, agricultural and off-road. What that means is, we assemble components that go into the customer's end product," said Jeff Martens, materials manager at Interstate Assembly, which has about 45 employees in West Fargo.

In the case of the garbage trucks, Interstate Assembly assembles the cabs, frames and chassis of the trucks, which then go to another company for the trash box, Martens said.

Asked if he sometimes goes out of his way to remind people that some things are still made in America, Martens answered, "Yes, I do."

Lighting the way

Another local manufacturing company is GoodBulb, which is located at 4211 12th Ave. N., in Fargo.

GoodBulb describes itself as a commercial and industrial lighting wholesale supplier that has its own line of light bulbs and LEDs.

It distributes in the U.S. and Canada and will soon start selling in Mexico as well, according to Brian Hotten, sales manager at GoodBulb.

A portion of the company's sales go toward the company's mission of providing solar-powered LED lanterns to people living without electricity.

"And that is happening as we speak," Hotten said, adding that the company's owner and CEO, Tom Enright, was in Uganda distributing 2,000 solar-powered lanterns in 11 different villages.

Hotten said the lanterns will be helpful for many reasons, not the least of which are the cost and dangers involved using kerosene, which the villagers rely on to fuel their current lanterns.

"Lighting is an industry that's been around for over a century, but GoodBulb is the first of its kind to sell socially responsible light bulbs," Enright said. "We give back with every sale to those without access to electricity and safe lighting options to help end the reliance on kerosene," he added.

Not all of what GoodBulbs sells is made in Fargo, but some products are assembled here with parts from elsewhere, according to Hotten, who said the company has about a dozen employees.

Such workers are an important part of the local economy, according to Vaux, who provided data that indicates the area's manufacturing sector employs about 10,000 people with the total payroll of sector employers amounting to more than $450 million annually.

The average payroll per employee in the local manufacturing sector is about $46,000, according to the figures provided by Vaux.

Editor's Note: Watch for more "Making it in Fargo-Moorhead" stories in The Forum over the coming weeks and months. To suggest a local manufacturer for The Forum to profile, call Business Editor Angie Wieck at (701) 241-5501 or email her at awieck@forumcomm.com.

Dave Olson
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